NIEHS Scientists Volunteer in Citizen Schools Program

NIEHS Scientists Volunteer in Citizen Schools Program


Narrator: Healthy lungs and happy living. That was the theme for a unique apprenticeship program conducted by NIEHS volunteers with students from Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham. With more than a dozen postdocs and other NIEHS staff serving as temporary teachers, the 10-week, after school program set out to expand the students’ knowledge of environmental health and promote healthy living by raising awareness of air pollution and its effects on the body’s respiratory system. Operating with support from the NIEHS Office of Science Education and the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the Healthy Lungs, Happy Living program was conducted under the umbrella of the nationally recognized Citizen Schools program, which seeks to link low-income students with groups and organizations specializing in academic enrichment. Cavanagh: We wanted to be able to a find a topic that the students could actually relate to that would be something they would be interested in and also that they could see the connection between real life and bench work. Narrator: Founded in 1995, Citizen Schools is a nationwide program providing hands-on learning in a wide range of subjects, including science, law, and others, by pairing students with mentors from their local community. Verhein: But, I think that the way we were able to link human health with scientific aspect and sort of combine how the environment is affecting these kids. I mean, we all breathe in everything, and so for them to learn how they can think about their environment, how that actually affects them, I think was a selling point for the program. Narrator: Beginning with a four-week crash course on the human respiratory system, students were asked to build mechanical lungs, which were then used to explore the effects of things like smoking, air pollution, and asthma on lung function. Lichti-Kaiser: One of the things that was neat to see throughout the ten weeks is the students and how excited they would be about learning different things about environmental science. So, for example, one week we were doing our phenol red experiment where they were looking at changes in pH. And, as they were putting on gloves and preparing their flasks, one of the students said ‘Wow, I feel like a real scientist’ and you can tell that that made him very proud, so that was neat to see. Narrator: At the conclusion of their 10-week study, students got to show off their new knowledge to family and friends, during an evening of demonstrations and displays. Arana: I think it’s very important for our Institute to partake in these kinds of activities, because the kids go in thinking that science or scientists are a certain way or behave a certain way, like they described us as being big nerds, and at the end of the 10 weeks, we’re not really that any more. They see us as people who have a different interest, and who brought that to their classroom.

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