WCU, Alleghany Co. Schools receive $250K science education grant

As President Bush calls for increased emphasis on science and mathematics education so that the nation can maintain economic competitiveness in the global economy, Western Carolina University is teaming up with Alleghany County Schools on a grant-funded project designed to improve science instruction in middle schools.

Through a $250,000 state grant, Western and Alleghany Schools are launching the SCIENCES Project, which stands for Seeking Clear Indicators for Effective New Changes in Educating Students. The 18-month project focuses on inquiry-based teaching and learning styles that may benefit middle school students in the science classroom.

“The main purpose of this grant is to ensure quality learning in math and science on the part of students in our public schools,” said Michael Dougherty, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions at WCU. “This kind of project is necessary if our country is to meet the demands of having high-quality teachers instructing their students in math and science .”

Through the SCIENCES project, faculty members from Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions will provide on-site professional development opportunities for Alleghany middle school science teachers, supplemented by online distance education and e-mentoring activities.

“This grant will allow us to renew our efforts to bring science to the forefront of our instructional program. We know that a strong hands-on science curriculum can improve reading and math performance, as well as increase students’ knowledge of science,” said Jeff A. Cox, superintendent of Alleghany County Schools. “We are currently undergoing a process of increasing the academic rigor across all K-12 grade levels. The resources provided through this grant will play an important role in allowing us to improve our science curriculum.”

The effort will feature a “virtual school” providing a variety of resources to science educators, including video clips of research-based practices from real classrooms, interviews with teachers using innovative teaching strategies, lesson plans, interactive simulations, and tips and ideas for specific predicaments often faced in the science classroom.

The SCIENCES Project also will provide assistance to teachers of students with special needs, and will support principals and aspiring principals in increasing their role in the delivery of science education.

The study is funded by a grant awarded through the University of North Carolina Division of University-School Programs and Center for School Leadership Development under the national No Child Left Behind Act. Grants were awarded based on evaluations by a national review panel.

The statewide NC QUEST (Quality Educators through Staff Development and Training across North Carolina) program is designed to fund partnerships between UNC campuses and school systems with large populations of students in poverty. It focuses on preparing, training and recruiting highly qualified teachers, paraprofessionals and principals.

Project SCIENCES is one of two WCU projects to receive NC QUEST funding for 2006. Connected Coaching, a multi-year literacy education partnership between Western and Asheville City Schools, received a $149,749 grant to continue an effort begun two years ago.

For more information about Western’s initiatives to support the profession of teaching, contact Kimberly Elliott in WCU’s Office of Rural Education at (828) 227-7347.