Institute helps local students in the era of COVID-19

Efforts include weekly science lessons on the Nine Network, free STEM activities and supplies

A staff member of The Little Bit Foundation sorts materials for STEM Challenge kits that will be handed out to families. (Photo courtesy of The Little Bit Foundation)

From creating a new COVID-19 curriculum for middle school students to providing free STEM activities and supplies for families, the Institute for School Partnership (ISP) at Washington University in St. Louis is working hard to guarantee children continue to learn during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Right away, we began assessing how to help the immediate needs of school neighbors,” ISP executive director Victoria L. May said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to help in five days, five weeks and five months?’ Even if it’s a short-term fix, we wanted to be strategic about it. Despite our physical distance, partnership remains in our name.”

Bridging the digital divide 

Kylee, a second grader at Gibson Elementary School, created an arch with material from the STEM Challenge kit.

To support students with limited or no access to technology, the ISP has partnered with The Little Bit Foundation to develop and distribute STEM Challenges for students and families participating in school-based drive-thru meal service programs. The Little Bit Foundation partners with schools where 90% to 100% of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Since 2018, ISP and the foundation have collaborated to offer project-based STEM learning to the classroom through its MySci Do programming.

“We knew we needed to come up with an offline option to keep these students engaged,” May said. “We are thrilled to partner with a local foundation to address this problem and offer these activities that can be done throughout the summer.”

So far, the foundation has distributed 1,000 kits and will distribute more throughout June. Students that complete their STEM activity can join an online challenge and win prizes. At 9:30 a.m. Monday, June 1, on the “Fox 2 News in the Morning” show, May will demonstrate how anyone can tackle these activities with supplies found at home.

This new initiative is made possible with the support of the Josh Seidel Memorial Foundation and STEMpact.

In addition, the institute has partnered with the Nine Network (KETC/Channel 9) to provide weekly science lessons. “Teaching in Room 9, Science” launched May 15 and will air every Friday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. for the next 12 weeks. This science programming complements two hours of math and literacy instruction that began airing weekdays last month, taught by local educators. Nine Network’s STEM programming is for students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grades.


“This new partnership between the ISP and Channel 9 furthers our mission to bring the resources of the university to the community in meaningful and impactful ways,” May said.

Chris Frills, principal of KIPP Wonder Academy, leads a science lesson on Channel 9.

Leading the science programming are ISP instructional specialist Melanie Turnage and Chris Frills, principal of KIPP Wonder Academy. The pair provide two 30-minute science segments. Frills’ is targeted at students in pre-K to first grade, while Turnage is teaching to students in second to fourth grades.

The curriculum is purposefully low-tech, with Turnage and Frills presenting concepts, reading books and demonstrating experiments.

Teaching the science behind the outbreak

ISP also has created a comprehensive COVID-19 curriculum for middle school students. Lead Instructional Specialist Heather Milo and Mary Buckendorf, middle school science teacher at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, developed the mini-module in response to actual questions from Buckendorf’s students. The resulting lessons will help students learn how to keep themselves and others safe and informed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The materials are free to the public. Locally, both KIPP middle schools (KIPP Inspire and KIPP Triumph) also are using it. Other free ISP resources include “How can we as engineers design a concert experience for others to enjoy?“ and “From Sun to Food.”

The Institute for School Partnership’s education programs are one way Washington University faculty, students and staff are improving K-12 education in St. Louis. To learn more, visit The Pipeline

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