LINCOLN — Teachers at Lincoln Middle School are hoping the new school year will literally inspire students to reach for the stars but a funding shortfall has imperiled their cosmic dreams.
A team of educators is trying to implement a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program associated with the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). If successful, local students would have an opportunity to send an experiment into space. However, the school has to come up with $15,500 in the next two weeks or else the program could be scrapped.
“We’re literally in the 11th Hour to fund the SSEP program as a focus to meet our STEM objectives,” said English teacher Gretchen McLaughlin.
Lincoln participated in the program two years ago with support from several national organizations. Competition for the program has become more competitive and those national sources are no longer available.
The school needs a total of $21,500 to participate. The school is putting $5,000 of its own money into the program and SMMUSD has contributed another $1,000. That leaves a balance of $15,500 that has to be in hand by the September 3 deadline.
Officials at Lincoln said they support the Education Foundation’s district wide fundraising program and are thankful for the fundraising efforts of the PTSA. Principal Suzanne Webb said she is hoping residents that have already donated to the district wide efforts might want to provide additional support for the Lincoln program or that new sponsors can be found who might have a specific interest in the STEM curriculum.
The teachers said they hoped Santa Monica’s booming technology industry might have an interest in funding the STEM program and the school’s history of success showed it has the capacity to succeed at a high level.
A group of eighth graders successfully sent an experiment into space in 2012 as part of the program. The student scientists’ experiment sent materials into space to allow astronauts to create a non-Newtonian fluid, known to most earthlings as Silly Putty. The putty was returned to earth and students compared it to terrestrial putty to see if zero gravity altered is properties.
Teachers said the program’s benefits are comprehensive. Students have to engage in real science and the program helps students understand the process of discovery, including its reliance on failure as a teaching tool. Science teachers said the STEM core students develop a respect for the hard work and striving to reach a goal.
“They see you can learn as much from many failures as you can from an easy success,” said science teacher Carol Wrabel.
Students also have to develop advanced communication skills to be able to explain their scientific ideas to the experiment selection committees. To facilitate development of those skills, the school has created a core program that partners science and English lessons. In the core programs, a group of students are assigned one of two science/English teacher teams. Each team sees the same 160 students every day in back to back classes. The program helps focus students on the connections between the disciplines.
“It’s relevant and students almost never get to do authentic science,” said Wrabel. “They learn the communication of the idea is as important as the idea. The best idea isn’t always the one selected.”
McLaughlin said schools often partner English with a social science or and a hard science with math, but the new cores at Lincoln are doing something different and exciting.
“The English teachers got pulled in because literacy is really needed for the most effective science,” she said.
Science teacher Marianna O’Brien said the development of joint communication and science skills is incredibly valuable in the real world.
“We want to bring our school into the 21st Century of science education and that includes a tremendous amount of literacy,” she said.
matt@smdp.com

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