Morgantown, McLaurin celebrate new science labs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NATCHEZ — Curtis Smith lifted microscopes out of boxes, screwed cabinet handles onto lab “stations” and hung posters on the walls in a new science lab at Morgantown Elementary, Tuesday.

As a science teacher at Morgantown for the last nine years, Smith said he is anxious and excited to start his new job as science lab coordinator, especially since the science lab at Morgantown is the first of its kind at the school.

The new equipment filled the shelves of two storage rooms and includes seven tables that serve as lab stations, a demo lab station equipped with a sink and stools for 28 students.

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The science equipment used in the classroom before the new equipment arrived fit into one large box.

McLaurin Elementary has ordered the equipment for its new science lab, as well.

The labs were paid for with funding from a 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal grant Natchez-Adams School District received last February.

Morgantown grant program site director Aradia Sims said the district will receive $473,000 a year from the grant. The amount will decrease each year for five years, she said.

According to grant restrictions, the money must be spent for low-performing students. Sims said the science lab will be used in 21st Century after-school, extra-help programs.

However, she said the entire fifth and sixth grade will be able to use the lab once a week in their regular classes.

Fifth grade students take standardized science tests, so Smith said one hope of adding the science lab is to bolster scores.

Fourth grade students will also use a science lab at McLaurin, which should prepare them for the science tests in fifth grade.

“(Students) can see it instead of just reading it in textbook,” McLaurin 21st Century program site director Sheila Sewell said.

Smith said the equipment he has already includes 14 microscopes, two computer microscopes, tongs, aprons, goggles, beakers, gloves, test tubes, Bunsen burners, and more equipment is on the way.

The idea is that a few students will sit at each of the seven tables and conduct experiments in small groups, Smith said.

Smith will instruct students by conducting the experiment on the demonstration table.

“I know they’ll be very excited (about the lab). That was one way I kept their interest in my class, even if I couldn’t go all out,” Smith said of conducting hands-on experiments as a science teacher in the past.

Smith said science instruction for elementary students is especially important due to the focus of science “this day in age.”

He said science skills can help students compete in today’s world.

In addition to his past teaching experience and the new grant-funded books that will soon arrive at Morgantown and McLaurin that include experiments, Smith will also be getting some outside help when conducting lab classes.

Alcorn State University students and instructors in the science department will partner with the school district to help teach elementary science in the lab.

Although Smith acknowledged the students will be eager to conduct experiments with the new equipment, he said the focus of the first classes will be lab safety.

“Before we do any lab work, they’ll have to understand the importance of safety in the lab. But they will be excited.”