Institute for School Partnership launches to improve teaching, learning in K-12

Program builds on Science Outreach success as it broadens scope throughout WUSTL

More than 20 years ago, Sarah C.R. Elgin, PhD, the Viktor Hamburger Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, founded Science Outreach, which connects the university’s resources to K-12 teachers and students to improve learning in math and science through hands-on, investigative teaching methods.


Today, the success of Science Outreach, a collaboration between Washington University faculty, students and staff and St. Louis area educators, is being recognized as WUSTL launches the interdisciplinary Institute for School Partnership, the university’s signature effort to strategically improve teaching and learning within the K-12 education community.

During a reception at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, in Holmes Lounge, Eads Hall, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Provost Edward S. Macias will recognize Elgin’s work with Science Outreach, and its continuing success under the direction of Victoria L. May, and celebrate the opening of the institute.

Elgin began a pilot program with her children’s University City school district in the late 1980s that brought Washington University science faculty into those schools to provide students with interactive environmental science and genetics projects.

A professor of biology and of education in Arts & Sciences and of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and of genetics in the School of Medicine, Elgin expanded that program and in 1990 founded Science Outreach, which has become one of the nation’s largest efforts to improve the quality of science and math education in the public schools.

May, the current Science Outreach director and assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, has been named director of the new institute.


“The new Institute for School Partnership builds on the great success of Science Outreach under the leadership of both Sally Elgin and Vicki May,” Wrighton says. “By broadening the university’s educational boundaries in K-12 teaching and learning, we can help improve education for countless children.

“Washington University is home to many talented students, faculty and staff,” Wrighton says. “If we can match their interests with the needs of local schools, we can contribute to strengthening the future of our region, our country and the world.”

May says the goal of the institute is to capture the synergies from all schools within Washington University and leverage these strategically to enhance K-12 student development and success.

“Washington University students, staff and faculty — including some of our most distinguished senior professors — have been volunteering for years in our local schools, whether faculty opening their labs to area teachers and students, WUSTL students going into schools to tutor or staff overseeing internships,” says Macias, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

“With the formation of the Institute for School Partnership and its mission of connecting the university’s broad resources with area schools, there will be even more and greater opportunities for members throughout the university to contribute to improving public education,” Macias says. The Office of the Provost will oversee the institute.

Four focus areas

May says the institute will focus on four areas: campus-wide coordination of K-12 public school efforts; STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) enrichment, which is a continuation of Science Outreach; school leadership; and school partnerships using the community school reform model.

The first focus area — campus-wide coordination of K-12 efforts — will be coordinated through K-12 Connections, a partnership of WUSTL’s Institute for School Partnership, the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and the Department of Government and Community Relations.

K-12 Connections will offer a more concerted effort by the university to place WUSTL students, staff and faculty who are trained and on-call with volunteer opportunities in high-needs urban school districts.

Examples of such “connections” are one-time special events at local schools, such as Family Literacy Night; Science and Technology Night for the community; mural painting; or an Interactive Black History Month presentation with WUSTL theater students.

Or K-12 Connections can engage school groups and classes through half- or full-day field trips to campus for tours of WUSTL’s libraries, laboratories or residence halls; discussions about college life led by WUSTL students; interactive programs at the Kemper Art Museum; or a scavenger hunt at the Earth and Planetary Sciences Geology Museum.

“We have faculty who are passionate about their fields of study, college students who are eager to work with younger learners, world-class collections of art and artifacts, and nationally acclaimed performing artists,” May says.

“As a strong supporter of local schools, Washington University wants to help facilitate opportunities for our community members to connect with these schools and to contribute to urban education.”

A national model

The institute will continue WUSTL’s Science Outreach efforts, considered a national model, and provide STEM education for K-12 students and educators through graduate courses, school partnerships and enrichment programs.

A popular hands-on science program that Science Outreach offers is MySci, which gives early elementary students and teachers access to innovative explorations of plants, animals and the Earth.

Supported by the Monsanto Fund, MySci is a collaborative effort of WUSTL’s Science Outreach, the St. Louis Science Center, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo.

MySci provides K-2 teachers with science curriculum books and classroom kits and then later visits the schools with an Investigation Station, a roving vehicle of innovative exhibits and specimens, to give students an interactive learning experience.

The two MySci Investigation Stations are equipped with a Missouri woodlands area, a specimen room and a replica of a Missouri limestone cave.

Through Science Outreach, the institute will hold “hot topics” workshops, which offer local science teachers professional development in emerging areas of research and materials to help them carry out engaging investigations.

One recent series of workshops focused on energy and sustainability for sixth- through 12th-grade teachers and was held at WUSTL’s Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center.

Science Outreach also offers high schoolers pre-college student enrichment experiences that provide immersion in science research and engineering challenges, as well as inspiration for the students to pursue higher education.

Becoming part of the solution

The institute will also continue WUSTL’s efforts in helping improve school leadership, which includes preparing teachers to be leaders and working with school principals on professional development.

For example, the St. Louis Public School (SLPS) District Principals Academy, a popular program May launched through Science Outreach in 2009, will be expanded and provide local school administrators an understanding of best practices and strategies for encouraging excellence in school districts.

The Life Sciences for a Global Community, a master of science in biology degree program with a leadership component for high school teachers, will continue to be offered, helping improve teacher quality in both content knowledge and pedagogical practice.

Open to teachers from around the country, the program was developed by Science Outreach and has support from the National Science Foundation. WUSTL’s life sciences faculty teach in the program.

The institute will also focus on developing deep, long-term, results-oriented partnerships with specific local schools to bring about measurable increases in student achievement.

“Using a community school reform model, we want to determine what are the essential characteristics of a high-performing school, take what we learn and put it into practice in our local schools,” May says.

“Whether that entails increasing community and family involvement in the school, enhancing teacher quality through professional development or assisting school leadership, Washington University wants to contribute in a very meaningful way to become part of the solution,” May says.

“There is no more important contributor to the success of a region than the quality of public schools,” says Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration. “Through the Institute for School Partnership, the university will significantly be expanding its efforts in this key area.”