The students at Sheridan Communications & Technology Magnet School at 191 Fountain St. consistently score below state averages on the Connecticut Mastery Tests. And the majority of the school’s students fail to meet basic competency standards set by the state in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics.
But although this fact is not an unusual one for a public school in New Haven, the staff and students at Sheridan are working alongside members of the Yale community to try to change things. On Thursday morning, a science fair organized by Huan Ngo, a former associate research scientist at Yale who now teaches science at Sheridan, exemplified the efforts at improvement.
About 200 fifth through eighth-graders entered 110 science projects in a friendly competition that filled the school cafeteria. The projects were judged by a panel of volunteers including school staff, parents, and Yale undergraduates. Many of the experiments were quite complicated.
“It’s not the typical building volcanoes,” said Nicholas Strohl ’04, who served as one of the judges.
The projects ranged from the everyday concerns of middle school students to complex scientific inquiries. Project titles included “Pizza Toppings,” “How the Moon Affects the Tides,” and “Ethnic Diversity of Eye Color.”
One student, eighth-grader Alisa Woodberry, enlisted the guidance of Stefanie West GRD ’06, from Yale’s department of genetics, to explore the difference between animal and plant DNA.
“We extracted DNA from chicken liver and broccoli,” Woodberry said. Her experiment won first prize in the 8th grade category.
West was not the only person from the Yale community to reach out to the budding scientists.
“A number of our students have mentors from Yale for their projects,” Ngo said. Personnel from the Occupational Health and Safety department and the Peabody Museum of Natural History volunteered their time and expertise to mentor students.
A number of Yale undergraduates are also involved in an after-school tutoring and homework help program at the school. As the public school intern at Sheridan, Strohl is responsible for coordinating this and other programs, like used equipment exchanges, that promote cooperation between Yale and the school.
The Public School Intern program is run through Dwight Hall and places about 20 Yale undergraduates as liaisons between New Haven public schools and Yale.
As for the science fair, perhaps no one donated more time than Ngo. Helping students put the finishing touches on their projects hardly left him time to leave his classroom.
“This last week, the janitor kicked me out of here at 11 at night,” Ngo said.
Ngo’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Students and administrators both offer high praise.
“We are lucky,” said Robert Canelli, principal of Sheridan. “I see kids that are very enthusiastic about science.”
With the science fair a success, Ngo said he is looking to the future. To reward the best science fair entries, Ngo will take 100 Sheridan students to the Yale campus on March 7 to tour research labs in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and the School of Medicine.
“Basically, we’re trying to give the kids some exposure to real science at Yale,” Ngo said. “In the long term everyone’s going to benefit. Yale will feel like a part of the city, not just the periphery.”