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Grant allows expansion of science backpack program

A $25,000 grant from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, through New Mexico State University's Physical Science Laboratory, will enable more elementary school students in Las Cruces to take home science backpacks designed to stimulate their interest in science.

Ricky Schultz, a student in Cassie Banks' third-grade class at East Picacho Elementary School last year, checks out the contents of a science backpack with his mother, Deonee Schultz. The back packs are provided by the Science Education Alliance's SCIAD

Marie Haaland, Science Advisor Program coordinator, said the grant will provide bilingual backpacks and supplies for 10 to 15 elementary schools in Las Cruces. The program has been operating in four schools since 1997, she said.

The backpacks contain materials and instructions for relatively simple experiments that students can do at home with their parents, Haaland said. "The purpose is to encourage students to enjoy science and to get their parents involved in their learning process."

The grant will provide 250 backpacks for kindergarten through grade four. Three different packs are developed for each grade level.

"It's based on the curriculum -- each backpack encompasses a different subject," said Cassie Banks, a third grade teacher at East Picacho Elementary School. "The kids love it. It's all hands-on stuff."

Once the final touches on the science lesson translations are complete, the backpacks will be distributed to the schools. They should become available to students by early October.

The Science Education Alliance's Science Advisor Program also provides volunteer scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technicians who serve as professional resources for teachers and as role models for students.

Among the participating agencies are New Mexico State University, White Sands Test Facility and the White Sands Missile Range, Dona Ana Branch Community College and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park.

In addition to SEA's science and engineering partners, First Security Bank (now Wells Fargo) was instrumental in the production of the new bilingual science backpacks by giving SEA a line of credit to use until the grant funds became available.

For more information about the program, contact Haaland at (505) 527-6057 or sciad@lcps.k12.nm.us.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/backpack.jpg.
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.