The University of Toledo’s NURTURES program was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Education Award by the AASCU. Jolanda Westerhof, Associate Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change at AASCU, explained that the winning program must demonstrate effectiveness in producing P-12 learning outcomes.
The NUTURES, or Networking Urban Resources with Teachers and University to enrich Early Childhood Science program, launched six years ago through a $10 million Math and Science Partnership grant funded by the National Science Foundation, said Dr. Charlene Czerniak, professor emeritus of science education and a research professor in the UT College of Engineering.
“We wanted to teach teachers of young children, pre-school through third grade, how to teach science and engineering in their classrooms,” said Dr. Scott Molitor, an associate professor in the College of Engineering.
During early grade levels, teachers focus on math and reading at the expense of science, said Molitor. Therefore, the goal of NURTURES is to use a complementary learning model to provide science education to children via teachers, parents and the community at large.
“The idea was to try and get the whole community talking about and interested in helping young children explore the world more and think like scientists and engineers,” said Dr. Susanna Hapgood, an associate professor in the Judith Herb College of Education.
To execute this endeavor, the program collaborated with partners such as Toledo Public Schools, Diocese of Toledo schools, local daycare centers and nursery schools. The program organized Summer Institutes every year where teachers undergo professional development for a two-week period, Molitor said.
“The ultimate goal was to improve teacher preparation and improve parental support, so that you can improve students’ learning,” Czerniak said.
In addition to improvements in classroom teaching, teachers would send home family packs containing simple materials so that parents could partake in scientific activities with their children, Czerniak said. Over the years, students’ test scores indicated that NURTURES certainly had a significant impact on their learning.
“We have results in a study that shows the children of the teachers who went through the NURTURES program had statistically higher scores in reading, literacy and mathematics than the students who did not have a teacher in our program,” Czerniak said.
In order to design community events that would further engage children, NURTURES also partnered with the Toledo Zoo, Imagination Station, Toledo Botanical Gardens, the Ritter planetarium, and the Challenger Center, said Molitor.
“Young children are fascinated about the world. They’re very curious, so science is the perfect opportunity to talk, explore and investigate,” Hapgood said.
The program was recently awarded a new NSF grant of $2.25 million that will allow it to expand and answer their research questions.
“The idea will be to try out the NURTURES program with different school districts, including Washington local, Monroe County and Michigan schools, to see if we get similar results with additional schools,” Czerniak said.
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities will present UT the Christa McAuliffe Award at AASCU’s Annual Meeting in California on Sunday, Oct. 22.