2010-04-08 / Front Page

Grant funds received for SAMS project

By Eileen M. Daly

The NASA-sponsored Science and Math Scholars (SAMS) Project at Lawn Avenue School has finally launched.

Project Manager Furhana DiBiase presented an updated report on the project to the school committee during last Thursday’s meeting. A joint endeavor of the Jamestown Education Foundation and Lawn Avenue School, the SAMS project is funded by a $200,000 appropriation from NASA.

Originally scheduled to begin in the summer of 2009, the project was delayed due to the late arrival of funding, DiBiase said. The grant monies were finally received this past November and the project is now underway, she said.

“NASA is very focused on getting more students interested in science and math, both for their own programs and to further research throughout the country,” she said.

Despite the project’s late start, the requisite technology and equipment has been acquired, including two Smartboards, aquaculture tanks and a weather station, DiBiase said.

The SAMS curriculum will span grades six through eight. According to the JEF website, the sixth-grade SAMS curriculum will focus on sustainable living with newly updated units on ecosystems, endangered species, aquaculture, hydroponics, eggs and chicken hatching being implemented.

The 300-gallon aquaculture tank has been installed in science teacher Deborah Barone’s classroom.

“The tanks will be used to grow guppies, salmon and seahorses. When the salmon are big enough, we will release them into local streams to help increase the population numbers,” DiBiase said.

The seventh and eighth-grade SAMS curriculum will focus on renewable energy. Students will begin by learning how electricity is generated, followed by a new unit on magnets and motors.

Grant money will be used to purchase solar car kits and small wind turbines to further student learning about alternative forms of energy.

Field trips and expert speakers will be used to supplement classroom learning, DiBiase said. A speaker from National Grid spoke to the seventh and eighthgrade students in March.

An expert on oyster gardening will speak to the sixth-grade students during their study of hydroponics, DiBiase said. Field trips will include visits to Roger Williams Zoo, Watson Farm and the Boston Museum of Science.

DiBiase is scheduled to provide another SAMS update to the school committee in June.

In related business, the School Committee also considered the recommendation of the Health and Wellness Committee that policy revisions be made to accommodate food in the classroom for curriculum purposes.

DiBiase provided the rationale for allowing consumption of food produced via aquaculture or in a school greenhouse. Superintendent Marcia Lukon reiterated the administrative team’s concern about food allergies.

While the committee was not unanimous in its support of the current policy, a majority agreed to maintain the intent of the policy – no food consumed in classrooms except for individual snacks sent from home – while encouraging other ways to make curricular connections, such as sending SAMS-grown produce home with students.

School Committee Chair Cathy Kaiser, when asked to comment on the subject, said, “There is no question that one can make a valid argument for allowing food in the classroom when it is directly connected to the curriculum. However, in most cases, there are equally valid (non-food-related) alternatives for achieving the desired instructional goal. The school committee policy is designed to reduce the reliance on food as a learning tool or incentive. Allowing exceptions to the policy would require the administration to look at proposed food use on a case-by-case basis – clearly not an efficient use of administrative time.”

In other business, the committee:

• Heard an update from Superintendent Lukon on the school bus parking situation. Lukon said she expects that approval of the plan to park school buses in the Rt. 1A commuter lot will come during the next four to six weeks. The plan, approved by the Land Use Division, is awaiting approval from the Federal Highway Administration and the R.I. Properties Committee.

• Agreed to end discussion of a cap on unreserved funds after reviewing the opinion of the committee’s legal counsel.

The next meeting of the School Committee will be held Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m. in the Lawn Avenue School Library.

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