Brigitte Russo, a graduate student in the College of Education Department of Curriculum Studies (EDCS), was presented the “Outstanding Graduate Student Poster Presentation” award by the Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance. Her poster, which reports on Wai‘anae Intermediate School’s place-based, culturally responsive STEM learning activities, earned Russo the top award at the 2018 Conservation Conference along with a $500 prize.
An earth and space science teacher at Wai‘anae Intermediate, Russo and fellow EDCS graduate student, Kekaha Spencer, lead their school’s STEM Learning Center. Russo’s work is supported by EDCS Professor Pauline Chinn through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant program – Transforming Scientific Practices to Promote Students’ Interest and Motivation in the Life Sciences: A Teacher Leadership Development Intervention.
“Wai‘anae Intermediate science faculty members developed place-based, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) STEM curricula to meet the needs of their predominantly Native Hawaiian students,” Chinn explained. “To support their vision, Principal John Wataoka has allocated an acre for a native plant nursery and food garden, and community partners support biorestoration projects mauka to makai.”
Students took pre, mid, and post project surveys, which reveal how culturally responsive pedagogy with community stewardship increases their interest and engagement. Through various partnerships, students participated in culturally meaningful service learning in Wai‘anae, leading to socio-emotional learning, community stewardship, and interest in natural resource management careers.
“I am so thankful for such a great opportunity to present my work,” Russo said. “It is important for me to show others how education needs to be transformed to a place-based curriculum. I want to keep my students engaged and reflect on relevant examples from the community. I want all students to feel successful in science and not intimidated. I want our ʻike kupuna (ancestral knowledge) to live through our students.”
Russo says she plans to purchase classroom supplies with the prize money, and she will continue this important research and serving as an advocate for her students.
For more than 30 years, the Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance has been working in partnership with organizations and agencies to provide unified leadership, advocacy, and collaborative action to conserve and restore native ecosystems and the unique biodiversity of our islands.