Donations boost science program

Fifth-graders at Boulevard Elementary School under the watchful eye of Gloversville Enlarged School District science coordinator and high school science teacher Jennifer Hazzard test out the new equipment in the school’s first dedicated science lab that was outfitted with donations from community members. (Photo submitted)

GLOVERSVILLE — When the economic impacts of the coronavirus hit the brakes on plans to establish a science lab at Boulevard Elementary School, donations from community members both near and far allowed the lab to be fully outfitted for students to begin using in the weeks ahead.

The idea to establish a science lab at the third- through fifth-grade elementary school was planned as an initial step towards improving science performance by all students grades K-12, according to Gloversville High School science teacher Jennifer Hazzard.

Hazzard, who is currently serving in her first year as the Gloversville Enlarged School District’s science coordinator, explained that the science lab is intended to become either a “special” that Boulevard students would regularly attend similar to art, gym and library time or a room that teachers could sign out to for their classes to use for science activities.

Placing the science lab at Boulevard will provide district students the opportunity to explore science hands on at a younger age to better foster their understanding of the subject and to develop skills early in their academic careers that will allow them to delve into more complex topics later on.

“This is a really cool thing to keep them engaged and foster that curiosity in them a little longer and strengthen their skills,” said Hazzard. “We have kids come into middle school and even high school who don’t know how to use a graduated cylinder, what a beaker is or how to take temperature. Hopefully when they come to secondary schools, if we don’t have to take the time to teach these skills it will allow us to delve into content more.”

But as school officials began to outfit the lab for the new school year, the economic impacts of the coronavirus and anticipated cuts to state aid led the district to suspend non-essential spending.

“We weren’t able to order everything we would have ideally liked to have,” said Hazzard.

Still hoping to get the lab up and running this school year, Hazzard put out a call over Facebook asking friends for spare household items that could be used as makeshift lab equipment. Basic items like plastic bins, rags, sponges, funnels and measuring cups were requested.

A friend saw the post and suggested that Hazzard create an Amazon Wishlist with the specific items she was looking for to share over Facebook as an easy way for friends to donate. Hazzard took the advice, keeping her expectations in check.

“I hadn’t put too much on there,” said Hazzard. “About an hour passed and a friend sent me an email saying there was nothing on the list. They went to buy something, and it was empty.”

Not sure what to make of it, Hazzard again took her friend’s suggestion to “go crazy” and add everything the lab could need. Hazzard spent some time to inventorying the equipment and supplies already at the elementary school lab to identify items to add to the Wishlist.

“By the time we checked the list later in the day, every single thing got purchased. When I saw that I got emotional because it was so amazing,” said Hazzard. “It was really great to open that and see that everyone came together to make that happen for the kids.”

Even after the Wishlist was bought out, Hazzard received a few messages asking if there was anything else the lab needed leading to a large donation of science books and about $250 in gift cards to purchase perishable ingredients for experiments and other items as needed.

Donations ran the gamut from official lab equipment to kitchen basics turned supplies and furnishings. In all, 26 local families, GESD alumni and friends from as far away as Colorado donated goods and gift cards totaling just under $1,400 to support the lab.

“That thing is completely outfitted,” said Hazzard. “It looks really awesome.”

“I am just so grateful,” she continued. “When I opened that up and saw everything was purchased, I was emotional, I cried a little bit because I couldn’t believe that many people came together to do something nice for kids they don’t even know.”

Students are expected to begin regularly using the lab in the next few weeks once school leaders finalize sanitization protocols in accordance with the district’s health safety protocols to reduce the risk of the coronavirus.

Once the lab officially opens, students will carry out experiments that directly demonstrate curriculum standards learning about magnetic forces, density, chemical reactions and more.

“In addition to that we’ll show them some really cool stuff they may get a kick out of that’s not covered, because it’s no fun sticking just to what’s in the book,” added Hazzard.

Hazzard expressed excitement at getting kids into the lab at Boulevard in the weeks to come and observing the long-term impacts of the early hands-on experiences for students thanks to the generosity of community members.

“I don’t know of any other elementary school that specifically has a science lab,” said Hazzard. “I’m confident it will make a difference that we will hopefully be able to see and measure when they get to secondary science classes.”

By Paul Wager