/////UAMS Summer Science Discovery Program Provides Learning Opportunities to Disadvantaged Children
UAMS Summer Science Discovery Program Provides Learning Opportunities to Disadvantaged Children 2018-01-05T09:11:34+00:00

JUNE 25, 2004 | It’s official – summer is finally here, school is out, and for most kids, the last thing on their minds right now is learning how to solve a physics formula. But for the kids involved in the Summer Science Discovery Program, the opportunity to learn about physics could mean a chance for a brighter future.

The Summer Science Discovery Program (SSDP) is a non-profit science enrichment program for disadvantaged children in Arkansas. The program, funded by a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, was created three years ago under the direction of Billy Thomas, M.D., assistant dean of minority affairs in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine. SSDP is a collaborative effort between UAMS and the Museum of Discovery in downtown Little Rock.

Participants in the educational program are between the ages of five and 12 and are from 14 counties in Arkansas, including Pulaski County and counties in the Delta region. The teachers and staff from elementary schools in those counties select children for the program based on their socioeconomic situation.

Raymond André Watson, SSDP director and community outreach coordinator for the Cancer Control Outreach Center of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at UAMS, said the goal of the program is to get students interested in math and science at an early age and encourage them to pursue careers in health sciences. “This program is all about giving opportunities to students who would otherwise not have any. We hope this program will increase the number of students applying to medical school, not just here at UAMS, but everywhere around the nation,” Watson said. “We are looking to make doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals out of these kids, and one way we do this is by exposing them to as many health care opportunities as possible.”

During the eight-week program, which started in early June and continues throughout July, college students, medical students and classroom teachers work with Museum of Discovery staff members to teach exciting lessons in subjects such as chemistry, anatomy, biology and physics that include presentations, laboratory experiments and tours of the museum.

So how exactly does a person explain the laws of physics to a five-year-old? Watson said the purpose of the classes is to introduce students to the basics of science in a stimulating way that engages their attention.

“We teach them by demonstrating exciting experiments and science tricks,” he explained. “We show them how sound travels, how to build a bridge, how to dissect a goat’s heart and a sheep’s brain. When you’re introduced to science at an early age, it makes it easier to understand subjects like chemistry and physics when you get into college.” He added that the students are separated into different age groups and the lessons are tailored for each group.

“I think it’s extremely important to teach science to a diverse group of students because in the end it improves diversity in the health care workforce and diversity has been shown to improve patient care,” Watson said. “Illness doesn’t see color or creed – medicine needs all of us. I feel strongly that the kids we see today in this program will be treating us in the future. It’s up to us to teach them now.”

Each day begins at 7:30 a.m. The children gather at the Museum of Discovery for two hours of math and science classes followed by a lab. Lunch is in the River Market and features a presentation from a local health care professional. Afterwards children participate in team building exercises and fun physical activities until the program ends at 3:30.

Students from Pulaski County are bused every morning to the museum and go back to their homes when the program is over, while students from other counties spend the night in a dormitory on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus. For these students, the day continues with dinner at the dorm followed by evening activities ranging from rock climbing, roller skating and playing golf.

Watson and the SSDP staff have several goals for the program, the first of which includes finding more money to keep the program running. “The grant from the Rockefeller Foundation expires in 2005, so right now we are seeking additional funding so that we can continue our endeavors for the next 10 years,” he said.

He said he would like SSDP to continue for 20 more years so that the staff can adequately measure the success of the program by tracking each student from the time the student begins the program to the time the student graduates from high school.

Watson said the staff currently evaluates the success of the program by giving the students a pre-test and a post-test to assess their interests in science and math. “Usually, we notice that their interest in science is higher after they have attended the program. The tests also show that there is definitely a need for this program.”

Other goals include expanding the program to reach students from all 75 counties in Arkansas; offering the program year round as an adjunct program to regular school; and starting a program for 11th and 12th graders and college freshmen; and developing the Summer Science Discovery Program at a national level. 

Links on This Page

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: www.uams.edu

Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation: www.wrockefellerfoundation.org

Museum of Discovery: www.amod.org

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