Inner-city kids are learning about science, technology, engineering and math in a first-rate laboratory thanks to the Harlem DNA Lab.
The city is trying to STEM the summer learning loss gap with a healthy dose of science, technology, engineering and math while kids are out of school.
At the Harlem DNA Lab, about a dozen students turned a graphic arts classroom into a first-rate science laboratory to extract DNA from a cell, an experiment some can only dream about doing in their regular classes.
The focus on STEM at the lab is partly due to the city’s efforts to provide more opportunities for inner-city kids interested in those subjects.
It’s especially important during the summer, officials say, because learning loss over the three months contributes to two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading by ninth grade.
“It’s about raising awareness,” said instructor Christine Marizzi, who is running the Urban Barcode Research Program this summer at the DNA lab, located inside Junior High School 45.
“We hope, of course, we’ll spark interest in science and STEM,” she continued. “But these kids are really dedicated, because it’s summer.”
The students signed up for 55 hours of training in conservation genetics and DNA bar-coding. About a week ago, they performed electrophoresis, or pushed DNA strands through a gel filter to separate the molecules.
Paul Jorge, a sophomore at City College Academy of the Arts in Inwood, watched his gel box intently to see if bands would form around the DNA, which Marizzi extracted, with permission, from plants in Central Park.
“I actually enjoy doing this,” said the 15-year-old, who decided to join the program with a classmate. “I get to experience science other than just learning from a book. I’m kind of excited to see what it’s going to look like, because I’ve never done gel electrophoresis.”
The Harlem DNA Lab, which is operated by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is equipped with state-of-the-art gear like dissecting microscopes, incubators and centrifuges for kids to use. And the program is free, thanks to $26 million in federal and private grants.
“There was no real science education going on, specifically in East Harlem, where there’s a need for STEM education,” said Marizzi, who is originally from Austria. “I think it’s a perfect place to expose kids to science, especially students who don’t have the opportunity to get science in school.”
For Shana Ramnarain, joining the program means the 14-year-old is one step closer to pursuing her dream job as a forensic pathologist.
“Science has always been one of my strongest points,” said the Queens high school freshman, who takes three trains from her home to get to the lab. “That’s what I’m headed for in my career. I like watching crime shows.”
The city is also offering more options for kids to get a taste of science during these laid-back months through a pilot program called Summer Quest.
The free, five-week camp operates at 11 schools in some of the poorest districts in the Bronx.
“Summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income students who don’t otherwise have academic enrichment,” said Ali Tan, portfolio director at the Fund for Public Schools. “We see summer as a critical opportunity to narrow the gap.”
Last week, Summer Quest collaborated with the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network to throw a “Maker Party” at the Bronx Library Center. The network includes dozens of city museums, libraries and organizations.
At the event, which promoted Web literacy and digital technology, students participated in projects ranging from stop-motion animation to digital music-making at different activity stations.
“It really helps us leverage all the creative and innovative programming that’s going on through New York City’s cultural institutions,” said Tan. “This accelerates learning and gives kids the kind of hands-on project experiences that they may not get during the school year.”
To find out more about the Harlem DNA Lab or to apply to future programs, contact Antonia Florio at (212) 769-5859 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Corinne Lestch / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS