WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College may be known as a premiere liberal arts college, but it's contribution to the sciences at Williamstown Elementary School are significant.
Representatives from the college's Center for Learning in Action addressed the School Committee at its February meeting to talk about the relationship between Williams and the elementary school.
The town-gown partnership was formalized 20 years ago but goes back further than that, CLIA Assistant Director Jennifer Swoap said.
"The Center for Learning in Action connects the college to the community through curricular and co-curricular programs," Swoap said. "I oversee work with four schools: Lanesborough Elementary, Brayton and Greylock in North Adams and Williamstown Elementary.
"The backbone of our work is the over 100 Williams students who contribute here."
Several of those students were at Williamstown and Lanesborough schools in January for the weeklong BioEyes lesson, which exposed fourth-graders to the scientific method and basic concepts of genetics.
That special annual project is just the tip of the iceberg.
On a daily basis, CLIA instructor Tracy Baker-White is in the science lab at WES teaching students from kindergarten through second grade. Baker-White told the committee that her position — initially funded by an outside grant — is now funded entirely by the college.
"For the most part, what I do is work with classes who come in the lab once a week," Baker-White said. "I also support the third- through sixth-grade teachers — obtaining supplies for them, helping with classroom activities. If they're doing something very complicated, they will come to the lab. For example, the sixth grade sometimes does dissection of pig hearts."
In the primary grades, Baker-White covers subjects including life cycles, states of matter and data collection.
Baker-White said she typically has a couple of Williams students with her in the lab to help maintain a high instructor-child ratio.
College students also interact with Williamstown Elementary pupils through the after-school tutoring program and reading buddies.
The latter program was instituted last year and pairs up about 50 pupils who receive targeted support in the language arts during the school day. After school, about 10 Williams undergraduates tutor about 30 pupils per week Monday through Thursday, Swoap said.
In addition, students volunteer in the Adventures in Learning after-school enrichment program and as helpers in the classroom during school.
"Overall, it's very positive," Swoap said. "The college students gain a lot of experience, and WES students benefit from the role models. We're grateful that Williams students have WES as a place to come and get first-hand experience in education."
And the committee expressed its gratitude to the college.
"I can't say enough about all the things Williams does," committee Chairman Dan Caplinger said. "It's an invaluable resource for our kids and our educators.
"I'm thrilled the Center [for Learning in Action] has been reaching out to Lanesborough this year. We're very pleased [BioEyes] as expanded to Lanesborough because all those kids who get excited about reading and the sciences end up at Mount Greylock."
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