This past summer, Alene Arnold, Head of School at the Jewish Middle School, secured a coveted position at the Center for Disease Control's Summer Fellowship. This highly competitive program offers STEM educators a unique opportunity to delve into fundamental epidemiology and public health principles, while working closely with CDC professionals to craft STEM lesson plans centered around public health.
For the average middle schooler, and indeed, most individuals at large, public health rarely takes center stage in their daily thoughts until a crisis directly impacts their lives. The recent global pandemic has brought this reality sharply into focus, making the subject more relevant to our children than ever before. The Jewish Middle School is seizing this educational opportunity. According to Arnold, "As educators, we now have the chance to impart public health knowledge in a way that truly resonates. Public health is discernible for children today, and the significance of the CDC's work is glaringly evident." She added, "The job market for public health practitioners is in dire need of skilled professionals, and introducing students to this field at a young age paves the way for potential growth in this field in the future."
During her week-long tenure at the CDC's Atlanta lab, Arnold collaborated closely with epidemiologists, microbiologists, and frontline outbreak investigators. Together with experts and educators from across the nation, they developed comprehensive public health resources and curricula intended for use in schools nationwide.
Reflecting on her motivation to pursue this fellowship, Arnold emphasized the importance of contextual learning in science education. "It's crucial for children to grasp that the concepts they learn in the classroom have tangible real-world applications," she noted. The prospect of contributing to a nationally recognized curriculum that accomplishes just that was incredibly appealing. Arnold shared, "When designing and refining curricula, it's imperative to teach in context, with practical applications. Contextual learning underscores the relevance of scientific ideas, provides a basis for scientific inquiry, makes abstract scientific theories more tangible and understandable, and, most importantly, it sparks curiosity among students."
Introducing this innovative curriculum at the Jewish Middle School is a realization of a long-held aspiration for Arnold. "Virtually every standard we cover in middle school science can be addressed through this curriculum," she explained. "By examining case studies or real-world data, students have the chance to approach problems or academic content from various scientific perspectives. At times, we'll scrutinize data as an epidemiologist would, or how a doctor might, and in certain cases, how a microbiologist would evaluate it. Students develop the skills to analyze data and convey information effectively—crucial aspects of science education that are often overlooked."
Arnold stressed that the ultimate goal of scientific knowledge is to improve the world, a goal unattainable unless information is communicated effectively. With this in mind, the Jewish Middle School stands at the forefront of delivering an inventive and well-rounded science curriculum that surpasses national standards, equipping students with the tools to excel in critical thinking, scientific comprehension, and communication.
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