BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — Rachel Tilton is a typical seventh grader at the moment, forced to do most of her learning on a laptop because of COVID-19. The 12-year-old attends Casey Middle School in Boulder, where the classrooms are empty and the classroom supplies inaccessible.
“I think it’s going to be hard. In person, it’s just way easier to learn,” said Tilton, referring to an entire school year that could be taught online.
No one agrees more than Tilton’s science teacher, Erin Mayer.
“We are 100% virtual, so they don’t have access to the tools that they would normally have,” said Mayer.
The 20-year teaching veteran is getting some help, thanks to a national grant that allows her to purchase science kits for her students that the middle schoolers can use at home.
“Kits (are) available where they could do lots of different water testing, there’s kits available for cameras that they could set up in their backyard if they’re really interested in wildlife and wildlife migration patterns,” said Mayer, giving a few examples of the different kits students can choose from.
The kits are provided by the Society for Science and the Public, a nonprofit which aims to promote science for students nationwide. This year it awarded nearly $350,000 to 66 teachers across the country who mentor underserved students in science and engineering research at home.
Tilton lives near Boulder Creek and last year she won a state science award for a plan to collect and study trash in the creek.
“We were trying to see how much trash was in there and how, maybe, that would be slowly but gradually affecting how much trash goes into the ocean,” said Tilton.
She hopes to expand on last year’s project with thanks to the science kit that will offer her new tools to study water quality.
“It’ll be easier to learn more and be more interactive and understand more deeply, like doing it yourself rather than watching someone build a type of thing,” Tilton said.
“The great thing about this is what they want to do is what’s going to drive it, and so they’re the drivers of their project. They’re the drivers of their learning and I’m just there to support them,” said Mayer.
Mayer said it’s important to reach every student by providing science kits that engage the curiosity of each child regardless of their background.
At Casey Middle School, minorities make up 50% of the student body and nearly 50% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
If Boulder Creek can be part of Tilton’s classroom, her science kit could be the paddle that helps her navigate through a pandemic.
“I think it’s really important because for most people, online learning isn’t great,” said Tilton.