There was much to celebrate as hundreds of middle school students, teachers, and families filled the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life on June 7, 2014, for one of New York City’s largest science expos.
The Urban Advantage Middle School Science Program was holding its 10th annual expo, which featured projects from 900 students from across the City. The bustling event was also the culmination of the program’s 10th year, a decade spent helping 1,135 teachers and more than 185,000 students in 327 New York City public middle schools tap into the resources of some of the finest science-based institutions in the country.
“The scale of the 2014 Urban Advantage Expo mirrors the extraordinary growth that this program has seen in the 10 years since it began,” says Museum President Ellen V. Futter of the innovative public-private partnership between the New York City Department of Education and a Museum-led consortium that includes the New York Hall of Science, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, The New York Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Queens Botanical Garden, and the Staten Island Zoo.
“It’s great to see Urban Advantage...using the cultural institutions of our city to help teachers innovate.”
Generously supported by the New York City Council and the Department of Education, Urban Advantage expands opportunities for evidence-based inquiry and authentic science in middle schools by providing lab supplies; access to collections, scientists, and other resources of partner institutions; and professional development for educators across the five boroughs—all aimed at bringing the best of science teaching to the classroom.
“As a former teacher and principal, I know how critical professional development is to empower, cultivate, and retain great teachers,” says New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “That’s why it’s great to see Urban Advantage, a truly wonderful program, using the cultural institutions of our city to help teachers innovate new strategies to inspire their students.”
In addition to offering teachers workshops on a range of topics, Urban Advantage has fostered a strong network of middle-school science teachers that educators say offers another crucial level of support, including the opportunity to share curricular resources.
“If you look at the science teachers in this school 10 years ago, and the science teachers today, you’ll see that there’s a big difference,” says John Barbella, principal of IS 347 in Brooklyn, of the program’s impact. “And that’s all due to the resources, professional development, and partnerships that Urban Advantage has brought to the school.”
Another important source of inspiration comes from visits to partner institutions, whether to The New York Botanical Garden, the Staten Island Zoo, or the Museum, by students with their families or on school field trips.
“Science is more than reading a book,” says Kevyn Jackman, a science teacher at the Academy for Personal Leadership and Experience in the Bronx who has participated in Urban Advantage for seven years. “If we’re studying astronomy, we go to the Hayden Planetarium. Evolution? The (Spitzer) Hall of Human Origins. Fossils, the fourth-floor dinosaur halls.”
Public support for the Urban Advantage program is provided by the Speaker and Council of the City of New York and the New York City Department of Education.