Halifax-area school wins $50K grant to improve hands-on science education

A junior high school in the Halifax area is one of four Canadian recipients of a $50,000 grant to enhance hands-on science education and encourage students to explore the field.

“We were absolutely floored. We couldn’t believe it,” said Mary K Layes, a teacher at Five Bridges Junior High School in Hubley, N.S., who submitted the grant proposal.

“This is just a huge, generous offering by Sanofi Biogenius and the opportunities that they’re opening for schools is amazing.”

Sanofi Biogenius Canada is a national youth science initiative founded in 1993.

It started as a science-based competition for Canadian high school students and has recently grown to offer grants that aim to improve access to scientific equipment and learning resources, as a way to create more interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“All Canadian youth deserve the opportunity for hands-on learning and instruction in the sciences, regardless of where they live, their socio-economic backgrounds or cultural heritage,” Marissa Poole, the country lead for Sanofi Canada, said in a release about the winners.

Layes submitted the grant proposal earlier this year. She said she didn’t expect the school would win.

“You apply for these things and you hope for the best, but you’re thinking, ‘We’re a small school in Nova Scotia and what are the odds?’ We’re still kind of reeling from it.”

Five Bridges Junior High School in Hubley, N.S., is one of four Canadian recipients of a Sanofi Biogenius grant. Teacher Mary K Layes submitted the grant proposal on behalf of the school earlier this year. (Google Maps)

Five Bridges Junior High, which has about 750 students in grades 6-9, is the only school in Atlantic Canada to receive the new grant.

William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Seven Oaks Met School in Manitoba and Caledonia Secondary School in British Columbia received the three other grants.

Layes, who teaches a range of subjects including science, submitted the proposal after speaking with some students about how they would want to use the money.

They suggested the money go toward updating the science labs. 

Layes said faculty often use simple items to complete science experiments, like extracting DNA from strawberries. (Submitted by Mary K Layes)

In the proposal, Layes explained that the science labs at the 56-year-old school only have two electrical outlets, the tables are outdated and the sinks aren’t fully functional.

She hopes to use the grant to make the spaces more accessible, efficient and adaptive for both students and faculty.

It will also allow the school to purchase more equipment and materials, which teachers often have to search for and borrow from other classrooms.

“Just to have equipment available to you and space available to you, it just takes one thing off your plate and it just makes it easier for us to concentrate on just doing more creative and wonderful things with the kids,” she said.

Layes said the grant will also allow the school to combine curricula in new ways, like working with the district art specialist to create glass models of cells. (Submitted by Mary K Layes)

Layes said the school will likely purchase more microscopes, slides and simple materials like cardboard, for more hands-on experiments.

“Science is something that’s not meant to be read about in the book,” she said. “You’re supposed to sort of get in there with your hands … and really let the kids learn and explore through hands-on.”

‘Light that spark in them’

Layes said she hopes this increase in hands-on learning will foster a love of science in students and encourage them to pursue careers in the field.

She said the money will be released to the school at the end of the month. The school has a board meeting on Monday to discuss how the money will be spent.

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