By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — It's hard to picture warm weather with snow on the ground and falling from the sky, but folks at DuPont and Hyde Park Elementary are trying hard to envision summer.
Representatives from the chemical manufacturing company's Niagara plant paid a visit to the Falls elementary school during its holiday assembly Tuesday, a $5,000 grant in hand, with the hopes of brightening the days of a number of second grade students with promises of future hands-on learning.
"This is part of our (Camp Invention SPARK) summer camp program," Hyde Park Principal Sheila Smith said. "They'll learn a number of things, like why do rubber balls bounce. They'll learn how to be little entrepreneurs. They'll learn a little about physics."
Specifically, Smith said the money is directed at next school year's third grade students because these children are facing two difficult years of state testing. Third grade is the first year students face a daunting mathematics assessment, now aligned with rigorous Common Core standards many high-performing students have struggled with, not just locally but across the state.
It won't get any easier for those third-graders once they hit the next grade level, either. In fourth grade, the students take their second mathematics exam and a science test on top of it.
So, Smith said, those students need to be the target of this money because it'll have the most impact on them.
It's all part of a national objective centered around science and math education called STEM – or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. As part of its $67 million capital improvement project in progress, each school is getting its own STEM lab to further the skills students will need once they become workers instead of learners.
It's this future that brought DuPont to the table with its Community Fund Grants program. The company's regional manager, Peter Ciotta, said getting STEM into classrooms is a vital mission and success will breed employees capable of handling 21st Century problems.
"STEM education is so critically important because it will prepare today's students for the opportunities of tomorrow," he said. "At DuPont, we are a science company. We are engaged in innovation through science. The students of today that will become the employees of tomorrow will find science, technology, engineering and mathematics avenues in the 21st Century workplace. We believe the opportunities in STEM are going to continue to grow exponentially in the future. When you talk educating our children, it's about giving them every tool possible to avail themselves of these opportunities."
The partnership between DuPont and the city school district isn't a new one. There's been plenty of support both ways, this just being the latest example.
But Hyde Park Elemtary, in particular, grabbed the attention of the decision makers at DuPont's corporate offices concerning the grant money, which Ciotta said further strengthens the bonds of the partnership developed over years.
"Hyde Park Elementary is doing a tremendous job on putting a focus on STEM education and on exposing children at an early age to the unlimited pathways to study and, ultimately, careers," Ciotta said. "This opportunity to show our support to not only a neighbor, but a school focused in that area, is very exciting to us."Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.