This story has been modified to clarify the funding mechanism for the program and the process through which the lesson plans are created.
NORTH ADAMS - It's a sunny afternoon, but students at Brayton Elementary School are already staring at constellations in the night sky.
After an astronomy lesson about the stars, first-graders in Jacqueline Thomas' class were tasked with forming their own constellations using gold star-shaped stickers and black paper. With limitless imagination, the students guessed what each others' constellations formed.
Though she is a veteran teacher, Thomas wasn't at the helm of the lesson - instead, two Williams College students led the way as part of the Williams Elementary Outreach Science Fellows program, funded by a National Science Foundation Teaching to Learn grant that has put students from Williams College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams classrooms.
The lesson plans also are crafted by college students and project staff from both colleges.
The Williams' students are paid through the grant and their involvement is coordinated by Williams' Center for Learning in Action in partnership with MCLA and the local school district.
"I really wanted to try being in the classroom and try teaching," said Ellyn Pier, a Williams student who joins Thomas' class every week along with fellow sophomore Isabel Torres.
Last spring, Williams College students spent more than 1,000 hours with North Adams elementary students.
From buddying up with a first-grader during lunch time to mentoring third-graders in science, the college students participate in a wide array of programs both during and after school hours every semester thanks to a continually growing partnership between the college's Center for Learning in Action and the city's public school system.
The science program is in the third year of a four-year National Science Foundation Grant, and administrators and teachers have worked together to hone lesson plans that will benefit and interest the children.
For Torres and Pier, it means a couple of hours at Brayton Elementary with Thomas' students every week and working with Thomas to review the lessons.
In addition to the extra help in the classroom, Thomas appreciates the way the Williams students act as role models to her own.
"They're thinking about their future, even though they're in first grade," Thomas said.
Molly Polk, the North Adams coordinator for Williams Elementary Outreach, explained the students' involvement at the city's elementary schools during a recent meeting of the North Adams School Committee.
"This feels like an authentic partnership between our staff back at the Center for Learning and Action and the district," Polk said. "It really feels like it's two-way street in terms of all of the work that we're doing."
In the Spring of 2016, more than 50 Williams College students participated in the core programs at Brayton Elementary and Greylock Elementary School, which have since expanded to include students at Colegrove Park Elementary. The college has had students teaching in classrooms since 1998, but the breadth of the programs continued to expand in the subsequent years.
"It's been a huge help to our students in terms of giving them a positive role model, older peer that they can meet with once a week," said Brayton Elementary School Principal John Franzoni.
Those mentoring opportunities range from the first grade through middle school-age children. At Brayton Elementary, 11 Williams students this fall will spend an hour with a first-grader at lunchtime every Tuesday and Friday.
At Greylock, nine Williams College students spend 90 minutes with sixth -and seventh-graders every week.
Greylock School Principal Sandra Cote said the program can provide a boost to the district's efforts to motivate students toward college and career readiness.
"Our students are now becoming such good friends with students at Williams that they're starting to say 'Well I want to go to Williams' ... just because of that connection that they've made with their Williams mentor or their classroom buddy," Cote said.
Both the college and school district hope their partnership only continues to grow.
"I'm really proud of these programs and they expand every year," Franzoni said.
Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.