GWTeach distributes STEM materials to D.C. teachers through Smithsonian partnership

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

The program still has thousands of items leftover to distribute, which will be handed out through the rest of the semester.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 at 12:50 a.m.

Faculty and students have donated classroom materials to D.C. Public School teachers this semester to enhance in-person learning and accessibility in STEM courses.

Participants with GWTeach, a program that certifies undergraduates to teach K-12 by the time they graduate, said they have distributed thousands of STEM materials, donated by the Smithsonian Science Education Center, to about 14 DCPS teachers and University alumni this semester. Faculty and students involved with GWTeach said teachers can use the donated materials to perform more STEM-related activities, like labs and experiments in their classroom.

Alicia Bitler, an assistant professor of teaching with GWTeach, said D.C. schools are “variant” in the supplies they have at their disposal because of funding discrepancies and stolen equipment. She said the new supplies will expand learning methods and opportunities for students in the District, who can have more “engaging, meaningful and rich” experiences in the classroom.

“A lot of the schools that are getting these materials are schools that really don’t have anything, and so it really opens up the opportunity for those students to be able to engage in hands-on learning,” she said.

A 2020 report on DCPS found the District’s public schools have struggled with “funding gaps” between DCPS faculty, which lead to inadequate class provisions that make it difficult for teachers to conduct higher-cost classroom activities, like labs and experiments.

Bitler said faculty and students at GWTeach store the materials in their offices, where they sort, conduct inventory and distribute the class materials. She said several students in the program have volunteered to help her perform inventory checks and organize the supplies over the past few weeks.

Bitler said since the program’s inception in 2015, GWTeach has certified more than a dozen teachers to teach in STEM related classes in DCPS. She added that GWTeach distributed school supplies to about 14 teachers who graduated from GWTeach and work in Northwest, Northeast and Southeast regions of the District.

“Since the first people that we made these available to are our mentor teachers, we know that these are teachers that are dedicated to giving students amazing learning experiences and to doing inquiry learning and to doing hands on learning,” she said. “And so we know that these materials are really going to be used in these schools to give these students amazing experiences.”

She said GWTeach hosted an open house on Nov. 11 to donate materials, like stopwatches and safety goggles, to other DCPS teachers, but even after the event, the program still has thousands of items leftover to distribute. She added that GWTeach will continue to hand out the materials through the rest of the semester and will host another open house in early December to hand out the remaining materials.

“It does work so much better for the teachers to come in and see stuff because we had one teacher that had her department head on video phone with her and was taking her around and her department head was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need that,’” she said.

Beth Short, a science curriculum developer at the Smithsonian Institution and doctoral candidate at GW, said the Smithsonian Science Education Center sent GWTeach materials that would not fit in the new offices where the center is relocating. She said GWTeach has connections with several teachers in DCPS who graduated from the program and need the supplies for their classrooms.

“They have, as a program, a really great network of mentors within DCPS,” she said. “So we knew that they would be a good group to reach out to in terms of directing materials that we have that we can’t use anymore, to people who can use them and who will get a lot out of them for a long time.”

Bethany Rosera, a middle school math teacher at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast D.C., said she picked up calculators and rulers at the GWTeach open house, which will be used “daily” by students in her classroom.

Rosera said she also picked up items that DCPS doesn’t provide for science teachers, like beakers and pipettes. She said the supplies will encourage students to participate in STEM-based activities, like chemistry labs and physics experiments.

“For the science materials, they will enable our science teachers to run labs and do extra activities that DCPS doesn’t provide materials for,” she said. “This will allow students to engage with science in a more hands-on way and hopefully encourage more students to be interested in STEM.”

Junior Lorenzo Lopes, a biology major, said he volunteered at the open house earlier this month, helping distribute materials to teachers from all over DCPS who came to GW to pick up supplies. He said the teachers were looking forward to picking up materials that they may not have otherwise had access to if not for the donations.

“A lot of teachers that pick up the stuff, you can see there is a joy in their eyes when they get it. It’s almost like giving a kid a present,” he said.  “And at the end of the day, that’s the best feeling because you’ve just allowed someone to become a better teacher.”

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet reported that the Smithsonian Science Education Center moved into smaller offices earlier this fall. The center is still in the process of relocating. We regret this error.

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