Legislators Visit W&M Camp to Support Science Education

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Students at the Elementary Science Institute camp were challenged to think critically, ask thoughtful questions and engage with real-world issues.
Students at the Elementary Science Institute camp were challenged to think critically, ask thoughtful questions and engage with real-world issues. (Submitted)

Rising fourth- through sixth-grade students had an opportunity to foster their love of science and share their enthusiasm for the subject with two state delegates recently.

Del. Brenda Pogge (R-96th) and Del. Monty Mason (D-93rd) visited Elementary Science Institute summer camp at the College of William & Mary to speak with students and observe them as they worked on two science-oriented projects.

One group of children was in the process of designing a hypothetical resort centered around sea turtles, while the other focused on creating a sustainable new country for Busch Gardens.

The program is part of VISTA, otherwise known as the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement. VISTA programs are offered at different sites throughout the state. This was the fifth year William & Mary hosted a VISTA camp.

Research suggests the programs have had positive effects on student achievement, according to a press release from William and Mary. In particular, students from low-income families or with special needs seem to benefit from the enrichment opportunity VISTA programs present.

The goal of the Elementary Institute in particular is to foster critical thinking among young students.

“Treating elementary students as though they have the ability to figure things out somehow encourages critical thinking and mature reasoning,” said Juanita Jo Matkins, professor of science education and VISTA co-principal investigator.

Matkins invited the legislators to visit the camp because she “want to give the delegates a chance to see what’s going on in science education,” according to a William and Mary press release.

Pogge and Mason also had the chance to speak to teachers taking part in the Institute about the particular challenges they face as they try to make science education engaging in the face of funding concerns and SOL pressure.

Both legislators walked away with an appreciation for what the camp was all about.

“Their gears are turning, light bulbs are going off, they’re getting inquisitive, they’re thinking and it’s always exciting to watch a child learn,” Pogge said in a William & Mary news release.

Mason also saw parallels between the issues students grappled with at the camp and issues he faces in his work as a state representative. He was impressed with how enthusiastically the students tackled big questions, like how to get people to care about issues of environmental preservation and sustainability.

“STEM education will help Virginia students compete for 21st century jobs and shape the new Virginia economy,” Mason said. “This is the next generation that will tackle significant changes in our environment and help find the solutions to complex issues in our rapidly changing world.”

In its five years at William and Mary, VISTA has served 750 students from 57 different schools. This is the final year William and Mary will host a VISTA program, but the initiative will continue elsewhere in the state.