Project ASAP stands for the American Science Ambassador Program, a nonprofit organization that tackles a huge educational (and therefore national) problem: Our U.S. students rank a lowly 17th (out of 34) when compared to other industrialized nations. We live in a global economy where science and technology is commonplace and growing; how is it possible that the country that invented the airplane and then flew to the moon, that invented television and the Internet, could fall so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to science education?
What's the solution? Bill Gates and his foundation continue to spend millions on the "education problem." He said, "How do you make education better? The more we looked at it, the more we realized that having great teachers was the key thing." Students become adults, and soon 50 percent of all new jobs created will be STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Who will be these new "great teachers," especially in science, whom America so desperately needs?
Project ASAP solves two educational problems with one solution.
1. We need better high school science teachers, and America is hiring. The National Math and Science Initiative, along with the Carnegie Foundation, is pushing the hiring of 100,000 new math and science teachers in the next 10 years.
2. At the elementary level, where it is often easier to get kids excited about science, our teachers there are often not science enthusiasts or science experts. The National Science Foundation has shown that elementary teachers did not normally "gravitate" toward science classes when they were students. If you don't know science, it's harder to teach science, yes?
The ASAP super-solution - teenagers to the rescue, with our unofficial motto being "Teens Today, Teachers Tomorrow." Our Science Ambassadors, who will be bringing new science knowledge and enthusiasm into the elementary classroom, are high school juniors and seniors who love science. Every high school has them, those students who are naturally curious; they get great grades; they are often student leaders. These older students volunteer because of the benefits they receive (college scholarships, public speaking training, free goods and services donated by community businesses), and they, in turn, benefit the younger students who look up to them as role models. Even the elementary teachers benefit. When a science presentation or demonstration is given by high school Science Ambassadors, they are learning, too, and Project ASAP then provides these teachers with lesson plans and science info so that they can be better teachers of science themselves.
Some of these older high school students, after getting a taste of teaching AND helping younger students by using their gift of science, may decide to go to college and become the science teachers that America needs. Project ASAP is working to secure both partial and full scholarships because we believe that the BEST STUDENTS make the BEST TEACHERS and that these students should be rewarded for stepping up.
Now, not every student Science Ambassador will want to become a teacher, so here at ASAP we are also pursuing non-teaching science scholarships as well. I met with Clarkson President Tony Collins; he supports Project ASAP and will be developing a future science-related scholarship.
As our organization grows, there will be more schools and more scholarships to benefit American students. We are a nonprofit corporation, approved by the New York State Education Department, that is filing our federal charity 501(c)3 application thanks to an initial generous donation from local philanthropist (and science lover herself) Muriel Ginsberg, who has supported science projects in the past, like the Adirondack Public Observatory and The Wild Center museum.
Muriel is not alone in both her giving and her love of science. While I was working for the Adirondack Public Observatory to help design their after-school astronomy course for elementary students, I discovered that there are millions of dollars out there in science education grants, money that could help the entire North Country. As Project ASAP grows, we will be hiring; we will be paying our already hard-working local science teachers extra money to work with students after school as they help train our teenage Science Ambassadors as well as hiring other full-time and support staff. If your sons and daughters are studying science in college, they may qualify for a paid summer intern position.
How you can help - come to our meetings. The first public one was held Saturday, April 13, and the next one is today at 6:30 p.m. at the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library in Tupper Lake, with more to follow.
Project ASAP is nonprofit and does not charge school districts while helping them. We expect the bulk of our funding to come from education grants downstate - like the Carnegie Foundation, for example - but there are many others. But to better qualify for these large grants, we need to show community support. Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun is giving official support from both the village and the county; Long Lake Principal and Superintendent Mary Dickerson loves the idea and has even offered office space in her school if ASAP needs it; retired sixth-grade teacher extraordinaire Kathy Lefevbre is contacting local, state and national politicians to garner their support and possible future funding. We need as many folks as possible to step up and say, "We support better science education," and that's where you come in.
Project ASAP is more than a good idea; it's already a reality, incorporated in New York as of last October. How much we grow and benefit the Adirondacks will depend on the enthusiasm of local, concerned citizens, and this enthusiasm will be multiplied through far-reaching efforts to raise awareness and charitable funding nationwide. Show your support; come to our meetings, which will be fun and informational.
First came The Wild Center science museum, then the Adirondack Public Observatory with its proposed telescope and science center, and now there is Project ASAP promoting science and education. YOU can help make the Tri-Lakes a hub for science excellence!
David Gardner lives in Tupper Lake, is a former Army officer and science teacher, and is founder and president of Project ASAP. For more ASAP information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.