By Nancy Rasmussen, Fort Rucker Public AffairsJuly 20, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- If 25 local elementary school students are any sign of our country’s prospects, the next generation will raise the status of the United States in the areas of math and science.
Last week, fifth and sixth graders from Fort Rucker and area schools participated in the first U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program. The result was a Friday afternoon graduation ceremony of lab-coat garbed children excited about their futures, said Loraine Parish St. Onge, PhD, research administration manager and GEMS coordinator.
Presenting graduation certificates to the GEMS students was Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general.
“By continuing to use your intellectual curiosity, you’re going to come up with bigger and brighter ideas to make even more improvements in the world,” Crutchfield said.
Following the graduation ceremony, the students presented Crutchfield with a lab-coat of his own, autographed by the participants and the six near-peers who mentored the week-long GEMS curriculum.
Near-peers are high school graduates who were assigned to work with one group throughout the program. One GEMS mentor worked with a group of students on an Olympics project.
The Olympics project included experiments in hypothesizing outcomes of various “sporting” events, including cotton ball, straw javelin and paper plate “discus” throwing, giant stepper, banana split and long jump competitions.
“The object was to guess how well each participant would perform each event based on height, weight, muscle and other physical factors,” said Maria Mullins, near-peer and recent Enterprise High School graduate. Mullins will attend the University of Alabama-Birmingham and pursue a nursing degree.
Another project reflected the nation’s fascination with forensics. It involved a mysterious poisoning. After much research and analysis, the crime scene investigation team concluded the culprit source was peppermint, to which the victim was allergic, and the villain chef had easy access.
These scenarios raised curiosity in the students who were largely unaware they were actually practicing science and math principles.
“GEMS concentrates on the future. We should start more programs like this around the U.S. to improve our nation’s standing on the world’s stage of math and science,” said Rashad Moore, near-peer mentor and 2011 Enterprise High School graduate. Moore will major in biochemistry at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
“The USAARL program is actually part of an expansion initiative we are implementing,” said Kirsten Lyerly, traveling near-peer from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Dietrick, Md.
“This year’s GEMS program has been a huge success. This is evident by the smiles on the faces of the GEMS participants and their positive attitudes towards math and science,” said St. Onge.
“Several parents of GEMS participants commented that their child came home every day beaming with excitement about the experiment they completed that day, or that their child couldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed GEMS. This is exactly the response we wanted... for the GEMS participants to want to do math and science for the fun of it.
“We hope to expand the program next year to include an intermediate GEMS curriculum for seventh and eighth graders,” she continued. “This would allow 2011 GEMS participants to continue to be a part of the program and new students to participate. Ultimately, we want the GEMS program to grow to include fifth through 12th graders.”
Upon graduation from high school, the participants will be eligible to be GEMS near-peer mentors.
Students accepted by the program are referred by their teachers and must submit an essay on why they want to participate. USAARL accepted a total of 51 students for its inaugural program. This week the second group of 26 students are experiencing math and science from a perspective they probably never thought about, said St. Onge.
“The focus of GEMS is for students to have fun, and discover how everything they see, feel, hear and touch is connected to science and math,” said Sarah Thiel, USAARL lead resource teacher and former elementary school teacher who developed the USAARL curriculum.