(Pictured) Miyad Movassaghi, right, a student at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, illustrates freezing points and energy transfer during an ice cream-making activity with sixth-grade students Ana-Sophia Echeverri (left) and Xiomara Freire at Saint Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven. The activity was part of the Science Friday program.
While most middle school students are itching to get out of the classroom on a Friday afternoon, students at St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven are bubbling with enthusiasm to get in.
These students have “Science Fridays”— the first Friday of the month when students from the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University volunteer to lead science lessons and hands-on activities.
“Our goal for Science Fridays is to bring some excitement to these kids,” said Henal Motiwala, a first-year medical student from Hamden, and one of the program organizers. “We don’t just want them to sit at their desks and take notes—we want them to absolutely love learning, reasoning and experimentation, and to never stop asking questions.”
Many of the discussion topics come from the middle school students’ questions. On this Friday, 13 medical students held discussions on four topics: the physics of roller coasters and the difference between potential and kinetic energy; the scientific method to understand good and bad science; Sickle Cell Anemia; and freezing points and energy transfer, illustrated by having the students make ice cream.
“Our medical students have blown me away with the creativity of their topics. I think we’ve also discovered a few students with a true gift for teaching,” said Carolyn Macica, assistant professor of medical sciences at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. “I encourage them to wear their Netter gear to promote the idea that this is an ongoing and committed relationship, a continuum many of these kids do not have.”
Macica has been a volunteer at the school for many years. In the past, she coordinated visits by professionals as a way of enriching the learning environment, but had a vision for a more permanent program. Despite their heavy course load, medical students have been eager to volunteer.
“I enjoy what science brought to my life,” said first-year medical student Spencer Church of Branford. “It seems like most kids in 3rd or 4th grade think science is great, but few go into the field.” Church said they want to show students that science is fascinating. Boosting interest in science and math is increasingly critical as the U.S. students’ proficiency in these subjects continues to slide behind other developed nations.
Principal Kelly O’Leary is happy to have the college students at the school, whose students all come from low-income families. The all-scholarship school celebrating its 10th anniversary this year has a 10-hour school day and an 11-month school year and provides support for its graduates through high school and college. All of its students have graduated from high school and have been accepted to college.
O’Leary said it is important for students to learn to appreciate science at a young age. “Science gets more difficult in high school and college,” she explained. “You have to develop a love for it at this age so they will continue to study it, even when it gets more difficult.”
Some of O’Leary’s students are already dreaming of careers in the field.
“I really want to study medicine and be a pediatrician,” said sixth-grade student Ana-Sophia Echeverri. She said enjoys the medical students’ lessons. “For me, it’s easier to understand how things work if I’m doing hands-on activities. They make it fun.”
Volunteering gives the medical students an opportunity to be role models, “the kind of role models we had or wished we had—and to help spark that excitement,” said first-year medical student Darcie Moeller, of Hamden, who also helps coordinate the volunteers. “We couldn’t have gotten to medical school without scientific curiosity and fascination.”
First-year medical student Jeff Erdman, of Naugatuck, still recalls the impression made by great teachers.
“When I heard about this opportunity, I thought back to what I was learning in seventh grade,” Erdman said. “I had a science teacher who showed us some really cool stuff. That stuck with me. I hope something we did here will stick with them. Even if they don’t go into science, the things science teaches you are really good tools to have in life.”
The medical school students received some initial training, but they have discussions to share what worked well with the students for the next session.
Macica said, “I’m pretty sure they went into this thinking they were participating in a great service project but I think they’ve each walked away feeling they’ve gained far more than they gave.”