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Bus 52 Presents: ISEP


"With more and more resources being cut from public school systems across the country, students are becoming increasingly likely to drop science from their work load as they move from middle school to high school. In order to combat this, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership was founded to help schools in Buffalo, New York rekindle students' interest in science.

Joseph A. Gardella, Jr. had long been "a Buffalo public schools parent activist, especially in special education," when he was approached by people who asked him whether he would interested in looking into and helping science education in Buffalo public schools.

His background in science and his position as the John & Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo, lent him the perfect angle from which to address the problems.

The problems that are facing Buffalo schools, much like public schools across the country, are many. "I think Buffalo is the now fifth poorest city in the United States," says Gardella. "The schools have very high needs, low graduation rates."

With regards to science and engineering education, Gardella explains that, "the transition from middle school to high school is where students disproportionately lose interest in science and engineering as a potential thing that they can do with their lives or having to do with a career."

In order to engage children in the sciences, Gardella oversaw the creation of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership -- a partnership between local public schools and the surrounding universities and colleges -- of which he is now Director.

Gardella explains that ISEP is "a program that links the professional development of teachers to increase their knowledge about science and engineering in particular interdisciplinary science and engineering, which is really the way science and engineering is done at the research and manufacturing levels these days."

In essence, in order to increase the chances of engaging students at a middle school level, ISEP provides the resources for teachers, such as funding and research positions, that allows them to further engage their students.

"It's to increase their knowledge but also to give them the resources in the classroom to actually implement that knowledge and so both the teachers and the students get more experience with the actual hands-on work of science and engineering," says Gardella.

The pilot program ran for approximately seven years in two Buffalo public schools before the program was expanded to include twelve schools in 2011. The premise had to be tested thoroughly before it could be implemented on a larger scale.

The schools they have expanded into were carefully chosen on the basis of performance and need. "We're really much more at the grassroots level," says Gardella, "so we identified schools that ... by these performance measures, are struggling. Yet we know in every one of these schools, there are students that are capable and are not necessarily surrounded by the resources to help them perform."

Working on the basis that students are most likely to lose interest in the sciences during their transition from middle school to high school, ISEP was determined to encourage students to choose they high schools based on a program they find exciting.
"We chose schools strategically on the basis of developing programs in the high schools that are attractive to students leaving middle school and choosing high schools," explains Gardella.

Buffalo's public school system is "a complete choice district meaning that there are no traditional geographic feeder schools. Students can apply to any high school and ideally you would like them to go to that high school because there's a program that they're interested in."

This gave ISEP the idea to encourage teachers in middle schools to build relationships with teachers in high schools in order to connect the work done at the lower level with future opportunities at high school level."