By Elizabeth White
to an audio version of this
Cuts in state aid have left schools across
the Cape struggling to provide adequate instruction.
Teachers have especially scant funds for technology
based projects. To alleviate this, there's a new
community effort in Falmouth, the first of its
kind on the Cape. It's called the Falmouth Education
Foundation and its mission is to raise private funds
for the public schools.
On a cloudy Sunday afternoon about thirty parents and
teachers gathered at Morse Pond elementary school in
The small but enthusiastic crowd marched around town
carrying signs in support of the nascent Falmouth
Education Foundation. In May, the foundation awarded
its first series of grants totaling $16,000. The
foundation's president Margaret Russel is a graduate
of Falmouth High. Though her own children attended
private school, Russel places a premium on public
: "I firmly believe it's one of the
cornerstones of democracy, it really is. That
opportunity everybody has for a good education. And
all of us on the board just feel that it's the
community's responsibility to provide the best we can."
The Foundation received twelve grant applications from
Falmouth teachers, and funded six of them. The largest
grant will install a research level seismograph at
Falmouth High School. At $7,000 dollars, the cost of
the project is already more than the science
department has to spend on teaching materials for the
whole year. Earth science students will use the
seismograph to learn about plate techtonics by
plotting actual earthquakes as they occur around the
world. Russel says the Foundation funds innovative
projects which fall outside the school's regular
: "We are not funding staff, we are not
funding textbooks, we are not funding building
repairs. The projects we're funding are extras in the
sense that they're expendable in a budget."
However expendable in a budget, the seismograph will
be invaluable in the classroom says science department
chair Chris Brothers. She says the seismograph will
help teach a range of skills.
: "There's different waves that travel
through the earth at different speeds, so there's math
implications, science implications, geography
implications for the students figuring out, well,
we've got a point here, what country is that. You know
all the studies show that kids don't really know
geography that well. And it's not just kids, it's
adults too. I bet most people still could locate
Afghanistan on a map. And yet that's a kind of
earthquake hot spot."
Sitting in her windowless office, Brothers says the
idea is to teach kids science as it's practiced in the
: "The technology involved in this, it is
what actual seismologists do. In terms of being able
to see the output form the seismograph and interpret
that. So as much as we possible can we're trying to
replicate that experience for students."
At least two Falmouth high students are looking
forward to the seismograph. Juniors Colleen Tully and
Courtney Williamson, think it sounds cool.
: "Like no really knows about that kind of
stuff, so we'd kinda get to learn about it. "
: "And we never have stuff like that at our high
: "What do you mean stuff like that?
: "We never have really cool like technical,
technology, like scientific devices brought to
Falmouth high. It'd be interesting."
The lack of high tech devices at Falmouth High is
ironic give the oodles of state of the art machinery
employed just down the road in the world renowned
science institutes of Woods Hole village. In a biology
classroom that houses a pet lizard and a fish tank,
Falmouth earth science teachers Scott Crocker and
Claudio Palhais discuss the importance of engaging
students with materials other than textbooks. Palhais
says hands-on projects greatly improve the quality of
: "I think in science especially when we
get a chance to do things hands on the kids get more
excited. They get excited about anything destructive:
volcanoes earthquakes and things like that. But this
gives them a chance to track that and like I said
before this is real life, real-life issues in real
time. This is not something that happened ten or
fifteen years ago, this is something that's happening
right now. "
For instance, students at other schools were able to
detect the earthquake that devastated Pakistan a year
ago, and could have picked up vibrations from North
Korea's recent nuclear test. Crocker says teachers at
Falmouth High have come to rely on private grants to
fund classroom projects.
: "That's kind of what's kept our head
above water so to speak. For the last couple years
The science department's total yearly budget for books
and instructional materials is $6,500, down from
$16,000 five years ago. The Falmouth school system has
a total yearly budget of $39 million dollars, of which
$31 million goes to salaries and wages. Superintendent
Dennis Richards says the Foundation is a great idea,
but it's not going to solve the budget problems.
To find out more about the Falmouth
Education Foundation, contact:
Margaret Russel (508) 540-0876
Broadcast October 12, 2006
Elizabeth White reports for WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station.