We all know the United States is in nonstop competition with other countries around the world. China and India, in particular, have made tremendous gains in their number of scientists and engineers.
It is extremely difficult to find any kind of report or study on education in our country that does not stress the need to make drastic improvements in science and technology education.
In 2005, the National Academies said, “The critical lack of technically trained people in the United States can be traced directly to poor K-12 mathematics and science instruction. Few factors are more important than this if the United States is to compete successfully in the 21st century.”
The bottom line is that many students, at all levels, find these subjects boring. According to Aaron Rowe’s article in Wired.com, “A serious problem with undergraduate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is high student attrition. In most instances, attrition is not because of an inability to perform academically, but because of a loss of interest and enthusiasm” (Congressman: Poor Science Education Could Unravel U.S. Economy, May 10, 2007).
Sadly, we as citizens and benefactors of public education just will not attempt to push our local Board of Education (BOE) into focusing on creative ways to provide challenging instruction in these vital subjects. Furthermore, there is no excuse for not lifting the level of technological competence of the student body, not to mention creating an adequate process to evaluate competency.
It breaks my heart and frustrates me to no end to watch J.C. Booth, Bennett’s Mill and Rising Starr middle schools work diligently — and successfully — on the very creative Science Olympiad programs and receive almost no support from the local BOE. Moreover, J.C. Booth Middle recently won the state Science Olympiad title and there was hardly a mention on the BOE’s website or a release of any kind.
We have students with the intelligence to excel in math and science, but we must create a stimulating environment for learning. Additionally, do not blame the teachers as this is a top-down problem. If the BOE and superintendent do not support innovative academic competition, then the teachers face an uphill struggle with funding and cooperation.
The J.C. Booth team is trying to fund-raise in order to travel to the national tournament in May. It appears that things are not going well in the 30-day window between winning the state tournament and getting to the nationals.
The J.C. Booth team has quite a legacy of invigorating the minds of students, leading them down new and exciting paths. The national Science Olympiad website is featuring a former J.C. Booth team member, Lt. Dan Berschinski, a 24-year-old West Point graduate and soldier who recently endured severe injuries while serving in Afghanistan (http://soinc.org/alumni).
Dan’s brother, Rob, a graduate of Yale University, now working in Washington, D.C., was also a J.C. Booth team member. Here is what Rob had to say about his valuable experience:
“Science Olympiad taught me the critical thinking and writing skills that have proven vital in my professional life related to national security policy. Being able to look at a problem, dissect its key components, and offer solutions based on both a grasp of the issue’s underlying principles and plain old hard work — those are the kinds of life skills that Science Olympiad gave me, along with friends that I keep to this very day.”
Long-time J.C. Booth coach, Mary Wilde, with eight national titles, retired from teaching a year ago. In a neat twist, her daughter, Tammy Pakulski, a J.C. Booth science teacher, became the new coach.
I was in total shock when I found out how little support the team received. Pakulski even had to pay for her own substitute teacher when she attended Science Olympiad functions. You have to admire her spirit.
Pakulski will attest that creative programs such as Science Olympiad not only inspire her team members, but it also makes her a better teacher. In her own words, Pakulski says, “Science Olympiad obviously inspires students to pursue interests in science and technology. But it also inspires me to be a better teacher in the classroom. I am constantly learning new things with the events I coach (Solar System, Bio-Procces Lab, and Ecology) which I get to share with all my students. Many of the activities I incorporate in my instruction come from things I have learned while coaching and from attending Science Olympiad workshops.”
Why is the BOE not seriously advocating this program?
We have another one of those situations where a teacher’s dedication exceeds the system’s expectations, revealing long hours worked beyond the pay scale, when motivation comes more from the joy of watching students flourish than the compensation received.
It has been easy for me to develop a profound sense of appreciation for the men and women we call “teachers” in our Fayette County schools. I have watched students wanting to come study extra hours of science in the mornings, evenings and weekends from September to May to prepare for the various levels of tournaments in the Science Olympiad program.
J.C. Booth, Rising Starr and Bennett’s Mill should be praised for their exemplary efforts on triggering the creative passions of their science students.
Due to the poor economy, most local companies that might financially support such efforts are not doing so this year. Our hometown students representing our state in the national tournament could use our assistance.
If the FCBOE will not do it and our larger businesses cannot help, let’s support the hometown students by sending even a small check to cover some of the cost of making the trip to Chicago for the national tournament. Drop a note wishing them good luck.
Checks can be made to: Booth Science Olympiad. The address is J.C. Booth Middle School; Attn: Tammy Pakulski; 250 Peachtree Parkway South; Peachtree City, GA 30269. You will let one over-worked science teacher and academic coach know her efforts are appreciated.
[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He volunteers with J.C. Booth Science Olympiad Team and was a judge in the Booth Invitational Science Olympiad Tournament. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]