The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam administered by the U.S. Department of Education to eighth-graders, showed that only 32 percent of students were proficient in science. While debate continues over the root causes, many point to a different attitude toward the difficult subject in elementary education.
In Asian countries and other parts of the world, parents believe doing well in science is a matter of hard work. In the United States, there is more of a belief in innate ability.
Jennifer Mergens, a teacher at Indian Hills Elementary School in Salt Lake City, hopes to change that. Each year, the 100% for Kids Credit Union Education Foundation is able to award grants to deserving schools. Mergens' hard work paid off, resulting in her grant request providing Indian Hills $1,500 to purchase hands-on science technology.
"The students overwhelmingly come to the Hands-On Science classroom eager to be a scientist in the lab setting," Mergens said. "The most consistent question from students is 'Why can't we come to the lab every week?' "
The grant will go toward improving the hands-on experience, providing needed supplies to augment the inquiry-based approach to science learning at the school. While many schools' science core is based in strict memorization knowing the order of the planets or the elements of the periodic table immersing students in research and results is shown to improve awareness and achievement by 20 percent.
The 100% for Kids Credit Union Education Foundation was formed in late 2002 and has funded more than 5 million in grants throughout Utah, though it has seen a decline in contributions during the recession. The majority of funds come from credit union members, said chairman Scott Simpson, and donations tend to decline as families prepare for hard times ahead.
Hundreds of teachers throughout Utah apply for grants, with the advisory board given the difficult task of choosing the most deserving for the limited funds.
"There's a default to 'meat and potatoes' education we do a lot of reading libraries, for example," Simpson said, "but we hear all the time about the need for advancement in science and engineering, which is why this request came to the top."
Simpson expects slow growth in the economy over the next few years and hopes the worst days are in the rear-view mirror. With that, he hopes to see more contributions to support underfunded teachers in the future.
Those interested in donating can go to their credit union and donate or visit the website 100percentforkids.org, Simpson said.
"More than anything else, though, we'd like to see parents get more involved at their local schools," he said.
At a glance
Since 2002, 100% for Kids has provided $5,625,854 in grants to Utah classrooms.
The foundation gives priority to grants funding reading, writing and math curriculum, but, in cases like the grant for Indian Hills, will consider branching out from the basic core.
Along with school grants, 100% for Kids offers mini-grants to assist teachers with out-of-pocket expenses during the school year. These range from $50 to $1,000.