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Published: Friday, 8/19/2011

UT set to launch early-grades science program with $10M grant

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In the next five years, about 11,000 Toledo-area youngsters will benefit from a $10 million grant geared toward changing the way science is taught to preschoolers through third graders by nurturing curiosity and developing an interest in discovery.

The University of Toledo recently was awarded the $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It is starting a program called NURTURES -- which stands for Networking Urban Resources with Teachers and University enRich Early Childhood Science -- that initially will be piloted at Apple Tree Nursery School on UT's main campus, a few Toledo Public Schools buildings, and a local Head Start provider.

UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko, and others were on hand Thursday at Apple Tree Nursery to celebrate the program's launch.

Dr. Jacobs pointed out the numerous partners involved in the grant application and program, including TPS and Toledo Catholic schools. "Partnerships are what strengthen a community," he told about 50 people assembled for a news conference.

Starting in the program's second year, summer institutes will be conducted to train 495 teachers, principals, and directors working in at least 50 community-based early care and education programs and 300 K-3 classrooms.

"Science is oftentimes not taught in early grades," said former elementary teacher Charlene Czerniak, UT professor of curriculum and instruction.

According to the most recent Ohio Department of Education proficiency tests, for the 2009-2010 school year, 49.8 percent of TPS fifth-graders tested proficient in science, compared with a state average of 69.9 percent. Fifth grade was the earliest grade at which science was tested.

The program includes seven annual community science events for about 10,000 families through partners such as the Toledo Zoo, Imagination Station, and Challenger Learning Center for Lucas County in Oregon.

Families, for example, could attend a family night at Toledo Botanical Gardens where children will learn how plants grow and parents will get materials to take home, said Ms. Czerniak, the lead investigator for the program. Those materials could include a book about how plants grow, as well as potting soil and seeds to use to grow plants at home, she said.

Parents who have financial need will be given memberships to places such as the zoo and Imagination Station, as well as TARTA bus passes, so families can continue scientific endeavors, Ms. Czerniak said.

Miss Kaptur congratulated UT for winning the grant, which will bring various decision makers together, and stressed the importance of science.

On another note, Miss Kaptur said she was disappointed business leaders have not stepped up to save Libbey High School. The building should be transformed into a multi-use center with housing, Owens Community College classes, a health center, and other services instead of being demolished, she said.

"I refuse -- I refuse -- to let that neighborhood have that kind of a vacuum," said Miss Kaptur, adding she hopes leaders will emerge to apply for funding to save Libbey.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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