Writer: Darrell J. Pehr, (575) 646-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org
LAS VEGAS, N.M. - Las Vegas middle school students will soon be able to take hands-on science classes in a new greenhouse and lab, thanks to a partnership between the Las Vegas City Schools and New Mexico State University.
Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Pete Campos, NMSU Dean Jerry Schickedanz and NMSU Associate Dean Paul H. Gutierrez signed an agreement Friday morning during a district faculty assembly at Memorial Middle School to begin work on the center.
"I applaud this program as a tool not only for the educational opportunity but also the community excellence," said U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, who also attended the event. The center will enable students "to become the scientists and innovators. Memorial Middle School will become the training ground for research-based careers in agriculture and natural resources."
The university will hire a professional staff person to oversee the science center, thanks to support from the New Mexico Legislature, while the school district will construct a self-contained greenhouse this school year, followed by a laboratory next school year to complete the project.
Gutierrez, who directs NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, said the science center is a natural avenue in keeping with the university's land-grant mission.
"It fits clearly with our teaching, Extension and research mission," Gutierrez said. "The project will help integrate science and learning experiences into the core curriculum, and will help prepare young people for careers in the sciences, particularly for minority students who are greatly underrepresented."
Campos, who also serves as a state senator, sponsored a bill to fund the staff position. He sees the project as a chance to build on the area's rich agricultural heritage, make use of an ideal site at the middle school, and give middle school students a productive setting for greater learning in math and science.
"This is going to help accelerate the learning process for area students," he said. "It is essential that we teach our young people the value of the environment and its most efficient uses. With this partnership, I believe in a very efficient way young people will be exposed to the important components that will develop their future and make their lives more meaningful and successful in the world of work."
Campos said school officials chose to partner with NMSU because of the university's excellence in agricultural and natural resource research. "This is their forte, their expertise," he said. "These people have been working diligently to put together a state-of-the-art program."
Udall said the agreement is just the beginning of what promises to be a tremendously successful endeavor for Memorial Middle School, NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service and the community of Las Vegas.
"The future begins here, with our children; the youth of today are the scientists and innovators of tomorrow," Udall said. "And what better way to encourage our students than to give them the skills necessary to be successful in an ever-increasingly scientific and technology-based world."
The science center will fit well with the school's curriculum, said Memorial Middle School Principal Sandra Madrid. About 500 students in grades 6-8 attend the school, which was built on former farmland. It includes a lined acequia and water rights for the science facility.
Because all students are required to complete a science project, the science center will give them a way to pursue more in-depth research, and special needs students will particularly benefit from the chance to do hands-on projects.
"It will provide a means of learning things in a new way," Madrid said.
Madrid has seen research that shows students who are involved with planting and nurturing plants make better grades.
"We're seeing that our students do not learn the same, traditional ways," she said. New teaching methods are more effective. "It's very visual and very hands-on."
Madrid plans to have all her teachers get involved in the science center, and current plans are only the beginning of what can be accomplished. "Who knows what else teachers can do with this opportunity. We have high expectations for our teachers and staff," she said. "It's going to be awesome."
Gutierrez said the science center will enable NMSU faculty and the staff at NMSU's Mora Research Center to collaborate with the school.
"We'll challenge the rigor of the curriculum and we'll challenge the students," he said. "The school faculty is doing a good job. This will only enhance their efforts."
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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