New project to allow families to learn together in Hazleton classrooms

Jim Carlson
March 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State project team that collaborates with experienced elementary teachers to utilize science and STEM education for English language development will be fully functional in the community of Hazleton, Pennsylvania — thanks to the College of Education — once the state-mandated restrictions because of the novel coronavirus pandemic are lifted.

"Science 20/20: Bringing English Learners into Focus through School-University-Community Partnership" is a five-year national professional development grant funded through the U.S. Department of Education. Its research supports students who will participate productively in science and engineering practices and help amplify their language development and science learning.

Due to school closings related to COVID-19 concerns, the project is on hold and the student teachers are awaiting news about how to complete their field experience hours for certification. Science 20/20 is exploring ways to support children and families from project sites during these uncertain times.

Hazleton has undergone rapid demographic shifts in recent years, and most new immigrants to the area are Latinx. The project, in conjunction with the field experience office, began placing Penn State student teachers with Hazleton Area School District (HASD) mentors in fall 2019, an intentional progression that aligns with Science 20/20 goals and extends a two-week, intensive experience working in Hazleton schools and the community during the College’s Maymester program.  

STEM with Me is another initiative through which Science 20/20 teachers, administrators and researchers will be able engage with families in their children’s learning. Families will be invited to an afterschool program in which they work with teachers and student teachers to understand the math concepts that are part of the curriculum. 

Family members then practice implementing supports for learning those concepts with their children within the context of STEM investigations that also can be done at home. Materials for the STEM investigations are provided through the grant, and instruction and resources are provided in both Spanish and English.

“Teachers are the primary school-based influence in a child's development and academic success, and families are equally important outside of school,” said Carla Zembal-Saul, professor of education (science education), Science 20/20 project director, and Kahn endowed professor in STEM education. “Through STEM with Me, we are bringing new immigrant families and teachers together with a focus on their children’s education.” 

The student teachers in HASD this semester, Carolyn Stoughton and Melanie Marcano, have been involved with STEM with Me. Both student teachers are bilingual in English and Spanish, and are learning to draw on students’ cultural and linguistic resources to support learning.

Stoughton, from Bucks County, has a double-major in Spanish and elementary and early childhood education. She is also a Schreyer Honors College scholar.

“Being bilingual has helped me form more of a bond with the students,” Stoughton said. “The majority of my students speak Spanish and English, so being able to highlight the asset of speaking Spanish has helped show my students that speaking another language is really important. I think it also gives a level of acceptance and comfort to the children.”

Stoughton said her Spanish is not perfect, and when she takes risks in Spanish and makes mistakes, it shows her students that it’s OK if they do the same. 

“I am inspired to work with children because I feel like being bilingual isn't something that people always consider an asset when the first language isn't English,” Stoughton said. “This setting gives me the opportunity to empower students and their language abilities.”

Marcano, from Reading, is an early childhood and elementary education major who said she pictures herself when she was in school. “I rarely had teachers who spoke Spanish or could relate to my cultural background,” she said. “I know I can make a difference, but more importantly, I know I can relate to the children.

“Language development is a critical issue for me, especially in my student teaching. Going through the education system in Pennsylvania, I began to lose my skills in speaking in Spanish," said Marcano. "Many students begin experience the same thing. I am inspired to build on the importance of language development in home language and second language.”

Marcano participated in the Science 20/20 Maymester course in 2019. “Before the (Maymester) program, I knew very little about where I wanted to be placed for student teaching,” Marcano said. 

“I enjoyed building relationships with the teachers as well as the community leaders in Hazleton. However, I was apprehensive about student teaching in Hazleton" added Marcano. "As time progressed, I started to miss the community and the students. I knew I wanted the challenge of student teaching in Hazleton. I am learning much more here than I expected.”

From Maymester, to Science 20/20, to STEM with Me, Hazleton Area School District elementary teachers who are working with the programs and the student teachers are pleased with their experiences.

“I am very happy to be working with Penn State students and faculty in my classroom. It has made me a better teacher by introducing me new innovative ways to teach science across content areas in my classroom,” said teacher Katie Frumkin of her experience so far.

“I have always taught science by starting with text instead of letting the students drive the investigation," added Frumkin. "Science 20/20 taught me to try something different and have the students notice and wonder about a topic first before telling them the information first.”

Second-grade teacher Sarah Molli said working with Penn State and its student teachers is important.

“They have such an impact on our students. They take a genuine interest in them and want to hear what they have to say,” Molli said. “When the children see them coming, they know something special is in store. And Science 20/20 has in particular made me see science differently. Our students are not afraid to ask questions and discuss with each other new learning and new thinking.” 

“To see second-graders have the discussions they have and to hear them form their own questions and develop meaning for new concepts is amazing to me. I see what happens in non-Science 20/20 classrooms and I can tell you that what we are doing is profound and meaningful," added Molli.

Teacher Ann Franzosa said Penn State’s presence has provided a wealth of knowledge, collaboration, professionalism and support. 

“That’s what makes this program so successful,” she said. “I am a better teacher because of it.  I’ve always included science and STEM in my first-grade classroom, but 20/20 has taken it to a whole new level. 

“I feel very fortunate to be part of such a dynamic initiative which truly provides meaningful learning experiences and impacts students’ learning in such a positive way.”

Frumkin, Molli and Franzosa all said they believe Science 20/20 has had positive impacts in their classrooms and they look forward to implementing STEM with Me when the time comes.

“Children will thrive when they see that their parents are involved in their learning and their interests,” Molli said. “When a child is excited about something, their first reaction should be to tell their families. If their families are able to interact with them about such things, then it creates a space for learning to be important and meaningful at school and at home.

“It is also important for families to know what is happening in their child's day. If they are unaware, how will they know how to support them?”

Franzosa said the district’s goal, in conjunction with Penn State, is to make the STEM with Me program a highly engaging experience in an inviting family environment.

Including family is the overarching goal of the programs, according to Zembal-Saul.

“By doing this intergenerational work and extending it beyond parents to families, we hope to get older siblings, aunts and uncles, and other family members joining us for STEM with Me. In doing so, we can intentionally introduce them to a variety of STEM careers, STEM pathways,” she said.

Those interested can follow Science 20/20 on Twitter, @science2020k6.

  • Melanie Marcano

    Melanie Marcano is a Penn State student teacher in the Hazleton Area School District who is assisting with the new STEM with Me program being implemented by the College of Education.

    IMAGE: Provided

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 25, 2020