Outreach efforts earn UW–Madison employee award from public schools

October 13, 2011

There has been a marked increase in green slime, exploding volcanoes, and rockets blasting off in the Madison public schools over the past few years, thanks to the hard work of Dolly Ledin at UW–Madison’s Institute for Biology Education. Her efforts in establishing afterschool science clubs and Family Science Nights have earned her the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 2011 Community Support Award. This annual award is given to a civic group, organization or agency for outstanding cooperation with MSCR (Madison School and Community Recreation) and its programs. 

As coordinator of the Adult Role Models in Science (ARMS) program, Ledin formed a partnership with the MSCR afterschool programs six years ago, and the ARMS program now works with more than 350 children a year, in 13 elementary and middle schools during the school year and six in the summer. “If Dolly had her wish, science activities would be as common in afterschool programs as the traditional arts & crafts activities,” says Afterschool Supervisor Jean Gascho, who presented the award. “With Dolly’s help, MSCR afterschool programs are well on their way to making this wish a reality.”

Afterschool science clubs give students with an interest in science a place where that interest can be nourished and where they can connect with other kids who love science. Family Science Nights build on the activities of the afterschool clubs, giving families an opportunity to learn together. Parents can be positive role models in learning science, and children have the opportunity to be science experts and teach their parents and peers.

To ensure that these outreach activities can be sustained over time, ARMS provides both volunteers and training for afterschool staff. An important component is the Engage Children in Science course (205-375), a service-learning course that trains UW–Madison students to lead the afterschool science clubs. Students learn how to work with children and facilitate fun, inquiry-based science activities. The ARMS program also provides science activity training and Family Science Night training for MSCR staff to help sustain science activities beyond the commitment of any single volunteer.

The ongoing partnership of the ARMS program and the Madison Metropolitan School District has overcome subtle barriers to informal science education and helped incorporate it into the fabric of afterschool programs. “Most afterschool leaders are terrified and run the other direction at the mention of leading science activities,” says Gascho. “These well-trained volunteers provide activities that probably would not exist otherwise.”

The ARMS program is one of many outreach, undergraduate, and faculty/staff/future faculty programs at UW–Madison’s Institute for Biology Education, a unit dedicated to fostering excellence and innovation in biology education on campus, in the surrounding communities and beyond. To find out more, visit biology.wisc.edu.