Washington University in St. Louis’ Institute for School Partnership (ISP) and the signature science education program developed in conjunction with Monsanto Fund, MySci, will take a major step forward Monday, Feb. 18, when it opens the MySci Resource Center at 6601 Vernon Ave.
Refurbished with the help of a $2.2 million grant from the Monsanto Fund, the MySci Resource Center will house educational classrooms, meeting rooms and a warehouse of educational science materials. It will become the nerve center of the ISP, WUSTL’s signature effort to strategically improve teaching and learning within the K-12 education community in the St. Louis region.
“Kids learn science by doing science — not just reading about it in a textbook and then looking at vocabulary terms,” says Victoria May, assistant dean of Arts & Sciences and executive director of the Institute for School Partnership. “So you want them to have the materials and supplies to explore and make sense. This warehouse is going to help us expand and improve what ISP has already been doing for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the community.”
MySci has been a cornerstone of the ISP’s work for the past eight years. The warehouse will help ISP transform the existing MySci program into a multifaceted approach that will both deepen the science content available within the MySci curriculum and broaden the reach of the MySci brand within the education and public community.
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton; Jan Holloway, senior vice president, chief of staff and community relations for Monsanto Co.; Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund; May and other Washington University officials will be on hand to open the MySci Resource Center at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, along with students from KIPP Inspire Academy. And once it opens, MySci, and the other core programs of the ISP, will enter into a new era.
“As someone whose career started in science in the field of chemistry, I have a strong personal commitment to moving STEM education forward in our region and our country,” says Wrighton, who will open the proceedings with a science demonstration. “Thanks to the Monsanto Fund, Washington University and the Institute for School Partnership will be able to expand science outreach efforts. This building represents a tangible commitment to the St. Louis community and to STEM education.”
“Exceptional teaching, access to equipment and supplies and enjoyable, interactive lessons are at the heart of improving science and math education,” Patterson says. “With the opening of the MySci Resource Center, there will be even more opportunities for teachers to learn how to engage, nurture curiosity and enhance critical thinking skills for students. Monsanto Fund hopes this approach will lead to improved academic achievement in math and science.”
The MySci program is in its eighth year serving the St. Louis community. Funded by the Monsanto Fund, it began as a multidisciplinary effort to cultivate the region’s next generation of scientists by engaging elementary students in science through interactive learning experiences and creative curriculum.Its familiar multicolored Investigation Station has been a welcome site in the community since 2005. In the past eight years, MySci programs have impacted more than 46,700 elementary students and worked with 108 schools in the St. Louis area. In addition, more than 2,300 area science teachers have participated in professional development workshops within the MySci program and more than 106,700 people have visited the Investigation Station.
The Investigation Station will continue to be a part of the MySci program, but the new resource center, helped significantly by the Monsanto Fund grant, will set up WUSTL’s ISP as the hub of STEM education in the St. Louis region, laying a foundation for elementary science teachers and giving continued support.
Among the features in the new 17,500 square-foot resource center is a lobby/display area that will house a conference room, a kitchen and an instructional and interactive area for teachers, as professional development is another cornerstone of the ISP program.
“We offer what we call ‘wraparound services,’ ” says Susan Flowers, ISP assistant director. “Teaching science is often a challenge for elementary teachers; many of them did not major in science and it is out of their comfort zone. We want to get classroom-ready supplies into their hands to enhance what they’re doing and be on call for support if they have questions.”
In addition to scheduled programming for teachers, the center will be open to students and parents at special times of the year – such as Science Fair time — to offer assistance and materials in support of projects.
The centerpiece of the building is the storage area and warehouse. Materials for science kits — from pipe cleaners to pulleys, from beakers to balls — will be housed and inventoried here so science kits can be distributed, returned, refurbished and re-used.
In addition to the MySci Resource Center, the ISP launched a new website, schoolpartnership.wustl.edu, that has curriculum guides, lesson plans and an interactive component for teachers. The goal, May says, is to help schools establish a uniform, coherent science-teaching curriculum.
“What we’re developing is not going to be school-specific; it’s going to reflect the new national science standards, a ‘universal’ kind of curriculum that is going to be able to be used very widely,” May says.“We’re wanting to change how teachers think about teaching science. Rather than using textbooks, we want our website to be the resource for teachers to post about lesson plans – what’s working? And so the next teacher that comes and starts to do that lesson will want to go to the website and see how other teachers did it,” May says.
The ISP grew out of WUSTL’s Science Outreach Program, founded more than 20 years ago by Sarah C.R. Elgin, PhD, the Viktor Hamburger Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, who brought Washington University science faculty into schools in the community to provide students with interactive environmental science and genetics projects.
Since then, many WUSTL and community partners, including the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, the Saint Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Science Center, have helped bring STEM education into the community.
Moving forward, May says the new center and website will help the ISP achieve its goal of improving STEM education and the equity of the situation for students all over the St. Louis region.
“We want to be able to do this in a way that’s cost-effective for school districts that normally could not afford these resources, so that there won’t be such disparity between schools,” May says. “It’s a big operation, a big endeavor, but it has to be worthwhile. I think people could order materials elsewhere, but it’s not just about materials. It’s about all the services ISP provides in a way that teachers will feel inspired and empowered.”
“ISP has this 20-year history of working collaboratively with people,” Flowers says. “We are not an anonymous science supplier who provides kits. Now we’ll have the whole support system in place to expand STEM education for every child in the St. Louis area.”
A behind-the-scenes look at the new Institute for School Partnership MySci Resource Center. Video by Clark Bowen/WUSTL.