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GETTING JOB DONE BECOMES A SCIENCE

Fortunately for Buffalo's public school students, their science teachers are using their heads, because it's about all the teachers have to work with.

Science facilities are outdated and supplies scarce in schools throughout the city -- a sharp contrast to the district's inventive curriculum.

"As time goes on, we get further and further behind because technology keeps moving," said Stanley Wegrzynowski, director of science education.

Classrooms in most schools lack many of the basic facilities. Work stations with water, gas and electrical outlets are missing from many science classrooms in elementary schools, and where they do exist they often are in short supply.

Conditions are better in the high schools, but not as good as Wegrzynowski would like. At Grover Cleveland High School, for example, the work stations date to the building's construction in 1913.

Steven Pearson said some of the work stations his students use at Bennett High School are "really antiquated" and far inferior to the facilities used by his teaching counterparts in the suburbs.

Equipment and supplies are also lacking.

"We're so far behind in chemistry and physics, it's absurd," said South Park High School Principal Paul Lafornara.

The science department at Bennett had only $3,000 to spend last year on supplies for the school's nearly 1,000 students, Pearson said. The school's eight science teachers could easily spend $1,000 each.

Faced with such shortages, most science teachers reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies.

"Every year, I spend over $1,000," said Francine Shea of Olmsted School 56. "A teacher does not allow the lack of equipment to stop them."

Most teachers spend at least a couple of hundred dollars a year of their own money, according to interviews with several.

What science teachers lack in materials, they at least partly make up for through cutting-edge curriculum and teaching methods.

The district has shifted its emphasis in elementary schools to hands-on science the past six years.

"Students learn best when they put their hands on material and experiment," Wegrzynowski said.

Instead of teaching mostly from textbooks, teachers instruct students to spend most of their time growing plants, collect rock samples and test outdoor water for acid rain and so on.

The district has embarked on a ambitious program to retrain teachers, in conjunction with the Museum of Science and the National Science Foundation.

Kathy Burke, a teacher at the Science Magnet's zoo site, said the curriculum and training mean students can receive a good education in science.

"I can do anything a suburban teacher can do," she said.

Mostly by using her head.

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