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Editorial: New funding source needs to be found to keep innovative program operating

These days, educational discussions often center on strengthening science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, especially as they relate to training minorities and women for these fields.

So it is disappointing to learn that federal funding for an innovative program designed to make science more interesting for students in a high-risk category runs out this school year. The successful program has garnered national attention.

The end of federal funding doesn’t mean the program has to end, fortunately. Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash, along with program leader Joseph Gardella Jr., will surely keep it going. Cash, in fact, said he wants to see the program spread throughout the district from its base in the 12 schools currently involved. That’s good.

But that requires the school district and community stakeholders to find a way to fund it, even if at a more modest level than the several million from the feds. Cash suggested getting another $200,000 or $500,000 each year would allow the district to sustain the effort.

The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP) started with Gardella, a chemistry professor at the University at Buffalo who, of course, believed that kids could start to learn to love science. He also wanted to remove the reputation that science is some sort of elitist field when in reality there are many jobs that require no more than a two-year degree.

As News staff reporter Jay Rey wrote last year, then-superintendent James A. Williams asked Gardella to pursue grant money to fund a collaborative project with UB. A $485,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation in 2007 launched a pilot program at the Native American Magnet School and Math, Science & Technology School.

Then Gardella applied for funding with the National Science Foundation on behalf of the district. It took four tries before winning a five-year, $9.8 million grant in 2011 for a collaboration between city schools, UB, SUNY Buffalo State and the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Participating schools include East, Bennett, South Park, Riverside, MST, Burgard and Hutchinson-Central Technical high schools, in addition to Harriet Ross Tubman, Charles Drew Science Magnet, Lorraine Academy, Southside Elementary and Native American Magnet.

Program partners include SUNY Buffalo State, the Buffalo Museum of Science, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Praxair and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

No students were left behind. Not even if they were still mastering the English language. As Rey wrote last year, one of the initiatives was to translate science materials into Arabic, Somali, Burmese and Nepalese.

Science testing improved in some cases, and even among students learning English as a second language. Gardella noted last year that more middle schoolers in the program were getting into better city high schools and nearly all the students at Native American taking ninth-grade science as eight-graders passed the Regents exam in recent years.

Cash is right. All schools throughout the district should be involved. It just requires commitment to make sure the program remains funded.

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