Thursday December 27, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In tandem with the season of giving, a state agency is granting Taconic High School about $88,000 to upgrade its science equipment.

"It's exciting and a very merry Christmas to us," said Kristen Pearson, chairwoman of the Taconic science department.

Pearson and biology teacher Laura Schneider were the lead grant writers from the school to apply for and receive a share of $3.2 million made available through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Equipment and Supplies for High Schools Grant Program.

The funds were announced by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and the MLSC just before the school vacation break. Thirty other schools were awarded grants, ranging from $7,400 to about $249,000, designed to support the purchase of life sciences training equipment and supplies at vocational technical schools, public high schools that are part of the Massachusetts' Gateway Cities initiative, and work force training programs across the commonwealth.

Pearson said that in recent years, students have expressed greater interest in the field of microbiology, particularly in studying and working with bacteria for science fair projects.

"This has been great, but Taconic High School doesn't have the equipment to do this. Some of it dates back to when the school opened in 1969, so it was very limited, what kinds of projects the kids could do," Pearson said.


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She said the science department has already been identifying equipment to purchase, including advance functioning microscopes, autoclave sterilization systems, incubators, centrifuges, and a new fume hood as a safety upgrade. The educator said an item like an autoclave starts at around $5,000, which is more than what the department's current budget can spend an annual basis in addition to other needed materials.

As required by the program, Taconic sought a sponsor for its grant application; in this case Lori Moore, medical technology program director for Berkshire Medical Center, agreed to do it. Moore and Helda Hernandez, a microbiology supervisor and instructor for the BMC School of Medical Technology, are aligned with the program to teach students and Taconic staff how to use the new science equipment.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, lauded the partnership, which combines the state's Gateway Cities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives.

"We are coming together to support the important life science training offered at Taconic High School," Farley-Bouvier said in a written statement. "I appreciate the leadership that department Chair Kristen Pearson has demonstrated in finding a way to provide the practical tools that are so crucial in preparing our students for career opportunities in STEM fields."

"Training students to enter the life sciences work force is a critical part of the center's mission," said Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the MLSC.

Pearson said the number of students enrolled in Taconic's Science and Engineering Academy has grown from 20 students at its start to about 90 students -- two of whom have gone on to compete in international science fairs in the past few years. She noted that even more students, from general science education classes to after-school programs, will have access and can make use of the new equipment.

To view the grant recipients, visit: www.masslifesciences.com.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink