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LA teachers gain support for science research programs

2:05PM, February 28, 2018
Doing Science

Antonio’s students collaborate on a chromatography separation, using a computer program that runs the equipment.

In Antonio Gamboa’s classroom at Garey High School in Pomona, California, a 10th grade student uninterested in STEM fields has completely changed her mind. Lizbeth Martinez-Ramos had once made clear to Antonio that she wasn’t interested in STEM in the least.

But after receiving the Society for Science & the Public's STEM Research Grant, Antonio was able to purchase science research equipment for his classroom, giving his students the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience. In 2017, the Society offered $120,000 in grants to over 20 STEM teachers nationwide, including two in Los Angeles County. Teachers can purchase equipment and encourage students to do science research and enter competitions with the grant.

The newly purchased top-of-the-line equipment allows Antonio's students to conduct elaborate science research and produce in-depth science fair projects. From chromotagraphic separations to bio-chips studying fluid behaviors, Antonio's students are gaining the kind of exposure that fosters a real interest in STEM careers.

The most immediate impact of the grant has been on the motivation and engagement that students have demonstrated.

Lizbeth, once uninterested in STEM, now comes into school an hour before classes to conduct research and gather data. She spends hours conducting research on microfluids, and has turned into an avid learner of 3D organ printing — even introducing Antonio to companies using this technology.

“Her smile, enthusiasm, and sincere interest in learning more about STEM and its potential is one of my best teaching moments,” he said. Lizbeth has been so inspired that she's even recently identified potential summer mentors at a research lab at the University of California, San Diego.

Lizbeth Martinez-Ramos works on a bio-microfluidic project at 7 a.m. She is learning how to write computer scripts.

"The most immediate impact of the grant has been on the motivation and engagement that students have demonstrated,” Antonio said. “They are excited to manipulate equipment that is usually only found in a research lab at a university.”

After receiving the grant, Antonio has noticed increased support from Garey High School’s school board, which made the science fair a school district priority this year. In the past, the only support the district offered was a gymnasium to house the fair. The board is also organizing professional development opportunities for teachers related to the science fair.

"As we continued to grow, improved our efforts, and gained more leverage through the grateful support from the Society for Science & the Public, the district decided to take science fair to a different level," Antonio said. "We observed improved projects and a wider variety of topics. Support volunteers were given T-shirts, participants received medals, and the winners received trophies, for the first time ever."

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Linda's students go to the local beaches for their scientific research, using equipment she was able to purchase with the STEM Research Grant.

Similar to Antonio, the Society’s STEM Research Grant has helped another California teacher build a robust lab and science research program at her school. Linda Sciaroni, a teacher at Marco Antonio Firebaugh High in Lynwood, California has been able to keep her lab open for students to do research during the summer months.

She used the grant to buy field work equipment like plankton nets, HACH water quality tests, and pH meters. These tools will still be useful next year, which helps with sustainability of classroom materials.

Linda's students test the quality of plant habitats on school grounds and plankton at nearby beaches. She used the grant to take taxis with her students to visit labs or go to the beach to conduct water quality research. She was also able to buy more power cords for school laptops, which kept running out of power once her students arrived at home.

I'm super grateful for the grant. It's motivation at every step of the way.

"I have a lot of kids with very little support at home," Linda explained. "I work adjacent to Compton, and poverty is common. At the Advocate Grant Program training in Washington, D.C., I gained empathy for other places in the country. They’re overcoming things that make it even harder, like trying to get kids to stay for after-school research programs, when the only bus that could go through the snow leaves at 3 p.m."

Linda (right) with a few of her students and Jane Goodall, who supported her school's garden.

Through the grant and support from TreePeople, Linda is growing a biology teaching garden at her school. "I want giant oak trees when I come back when I’m 90. I want it to be easier for the teachers after me," Linda said.

The grant has helped Linda persevere despite the challenges. It allows her to stay in touch with like-minded colleagues across the country. They share best practices, ways to gain support from administrators, ideas for experiments, and more. Even though her school didn't make it to the science fair this year, Linda plans to push for it next year.

"I'm super grateful for the grant," Linda said. "It's motivation at every step of the way. We often feel like we don't have anybody behind us. It was nice to have someone outside of my school saying, 'Continue to fight!'


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