Granger Junior High student Jason Wesson pointed to the skeleton dangling before him and talked about how you could tell from examining the cranium whether it was “cracked in the head,” or whether it was a male or female by examining the pelvis.
Then there’s the femur. It can tell you how tall a person was, Jason explained.
This was no episode from a television crime drama. The setting was a classroom at Granger Junior High, one of four district schools that offered a Summer Science Institute for middle school youth.
“When you make it fun and interesting, students are even more enthusiastic about learning,” said Sweetwater Board President Greg Sandoval. “Enrichment programs in science can make a significant difference in students’ comprehension of complex subjects. For some students, it also stimulates interest in a science-related career.”
The specially designed four-week enrichment program was intended to increase student interest in science through activities such as DNA fingerprinting and mock crime scene analysis. Nearly 130 students participated in the science program. An additional 112 students participated in a Summer Math Institute.
“I really liked the part where we had to study DNA,” Jason said.
The institute was offered at no cost to students, thanks to the district’s GEAR UP grant. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. GEAR UP is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
“They had a blast,” said GEAR UP Director Mayra Gutierrez. “Every one of the GEAR UP schools had a positive result. Teachers loved teaching the kids because of the high interest level and hands-on activities. The kids loved it because of the one-on-one attention. A lot of kids also talked about connecting this to future careers.”
The goal of Sweetwater’s GEAR UP program is to build capacity for the improvement of teaching and learning so that educators can bridge the achievement gap for students who reside in mostly disadvantaged communities on the district’s west side. The seven GEAR UP middle schools are Castle Park, Chula Vista, Mar Vista, Montgomery, National City, Southwest and Granger Junior.
Sweetwater was awarded $19 million over the next six years for its innovative program and partnership with local universities, colleges and community organizations. The multi-faceted program will guide students in their academic journey from the 7th grade all the way to high school graduation.
“We hope to continue holding summer enrichment programs in the years ahead as these GEAR UP students progress through middle and high school,” Gutierrez said.