Montshire School Partnership Initiative
The Montshire Museum’s School Partnership Initiative strengthens the study of science in rural K-8 schools in Vermont and New Hampshire.
The initiative, run by the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont, works with teachers and school districts to improve science education in rural schools. “Many of the rural school districts found in Northern New England are too small to support the infrastructure needed for outstanding science programs. They are committed to a high-quality science programs but simply don’t have the resources to hire professional staff dedicated to developing and coordinating a high-quality science curriculum,” said Greg DeFrancis, director of education at the Montshire Museum.
Listen to the audio story produced by Ari Daniel Shapiro for the Noyce Leadership Institute.
[at left] Ari Daniel Shapiro interviewing a student in Thetford, VT.
Why Focus on Youth Science Education?
Science education is critically important to the region and the nation. The STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) have a major impact on the economy, the environment, health, international competitiveness, and technological innovation. But according to multiple assessments, such as the Program for International Student Assessment, the United States is no longer the leader in science education.
Through a longitudinal study of more than 3,300 young people, Dr. Robert Tai, a researcher at the University of Virginia, found that an interest in science, inspired before the age of 13, is more important than test scores in predicting a future career in science. Experts agree that a hands-on, inquiry-based approach can have a lasting impact on students’ attitudes and enthusiasm toward science and learning.
Rural School Districts Present Unique Challenges in Science Teaching
Northern New England’s small, rural school districts face ongoing challenges. Many districts don’t have the resources to hire staff dedicated to coordinating a high-quality science curriculum. Underfunded school systems are less able to invest in curriculum materials and teacher development.
Montshire’s School Partnership Initiative
The Montshire Museum developed its School Partnership Initiative (SPI) to support science education in the region’s rural K-8 schools, and to improve the learning experiences of individual students. The initiative brings together the Museum’s expertise in inquiry-based science learning and the schools’ sustained relationship with students and their families. Montshire provides its partner schools with a series of carefully crafted services and programs that will strengthen the entire school’s infrastructure and capacity to offer a high-quality science program to children in their critical early years.
The goals of the SPI are to improve student learning and their interest in science, to support schools in building their capacity and infrastructure to provide high-quality science education experiences for their students, to grow leadership for science within the partner school’s faculty and staff at the K-8 level, and to increase community and family involvement in science education.
Ten schools in five rural districts in Vermont and New Hampshire are currently participating in the Initiative. "This type of support is exactly what schools need to increase the quality of science learning at the elementary level," comments Jeff Valence, Principal, Lyme School, Lyme, New Hampshire.
"Two-years ago, one of our teachers told me how she often avoided teaching science, it was her hardest subject to teach," said Tammy Russell, 7th/8th grade science teacher and SPI teacher-leader, Walden Elementary School, Walden, Vermont. "After 18 months in the Montshire School Partnership program, she now tells me she loves teaching science and it is one of her favorite subjects! She did a complete 180!"
Initiative Details and Future Plans
Annually, the Montshire Museum of Science’s services to partnership schools include workshops for faculty and staff, model teaching and technical support in the classroom, free access to the Museum for the faculty, and a special Community Science Night for the school’s community at the Museum. The schools, in turn, commit to releasing faculty members for curriculum workshops and training; involving Montshire project staff in programs in math, science, and technology offered through the school district; and increasing the amount of classroom time dedicated to science education.
Over the next three years, Montshire will work to strengthen the links among faculty and administrators at the partner schools, while continuing to collect and analyze data on the impact of the School Partnership Initiative.
Participants in the School Partnership Initiative are confident that the lasting relationship being built between rural schools and the Montshire Museum will have a significant impact on student learning and excitement about science.
The Donley Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, Hypertherm HOPE Foundation, and the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory help support the initiative, making possible a variety of activities and services in the classroom and at the Museum.