With the sun barely clearing the pines that rim the construction site, a group of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) teachers and administrators as well as community and business leaders joined HHMI officers and staff at Janelia Farm this past March for breakfast and an announcement that had the guests "hovering just a little above the floor," according to LCPS Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick.
The group had gathered for the formal announcement of an HHMI commitment to invest at least $1 million per year in support of science education in the LCPS system. Though the Institute has funded science education since the inception of its grants program in 1988—more than $1.4 billion have been invested thus far in a range of activities for students of all ages—this partnership marks the first time that HHMI will work directly with recipient schools.
College scholarships, each worth $7,000 per year, have been established for two outstanding seniors at every Loudoun County high school. In addition, HHMI will bolster two programs already in the county budget: the start-up of a district-wide science academy at the recently built Dominion High School and the development of a new middle school science curriculum.
Space for a public academy was built into the plan for Dominion, says Hatrick, though the nature of the academy had been undefined. "Through our work with the Institute, what was a somewhat cloudy vision at first is becoming much clearer," he says. Developing a science academy with a cross-pollination of activities at both Dominion and Janelia Farm will "create opportunities for science education that will be unbeatable anywhere in America."
Modernizing the middle school curriculum will involve the creation of hands-on activities to pique interest at this "prime time" in a student's development, says Peter J. Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs. HHMI will hold a summer workshop to familiarize teachers with the new tools as well as a two-day booster class just before school begins. To further ensure success, a group of long-time HHMI grantees from Pennsylvania—who developed the nationally renowned "LabLion" program for elementary schools—will provide support throughout the school year.
It is the national and international network of HHMI grantees and scientists, and not just dollars, that makes the value of the partnership so immense, says HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. The well of experience of the more than 200 grantees at research universities across the United States should prove a major resource for innovative ideas for Loudoun County teachers. And, says Hatrick, the value to students of the proximity of the Janelia Farm campus cannot be underestimated. "For them to have the chance to rub elbows with researchers who are opening the world of science to things we can't imagine right now, the potential is boundless."
—Mary Beth Gardiner
Photo: Paul Fetters
this story in Acrobat PDF format.
Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
Summer 2004, pages 28-32.
©2004 Howard Hughes Medical Institute