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RPS citizen scientists get a boost with $25,000 worth of new technology for Mary Munford Elementary
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RPS citizen scientists get a boost with $25,000 worth of new technology for Mary Munford Elementary

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Crystal Clark’s citizen scientists just got a few more gadgets with which to study the world around them.

Clark, a fourth-grade teacher at Richmond’s Mary Munford Elementary, won a classroom makeover prize package worth $25,000 as part of the CIA Mission Possible Classroom Transformation program, which supports strengthening STEAM education — science, technology, engineering, art and math. The program, in its first year, is sponsored by the CIA and managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Clark, a veteran teacher of 24 years and a former teacher at the regional Mathematics & Science Center, now called MathScience Innovation Center, learned of her award in July. With her $25,000, Clark received a variety of items: computers, iPads, a television, GoPro and trail cameras and spotting scopes for watching the plants, trees and other life outside their classroom window, a digital microscope, color printer, 3-D printer and more.

In the hallway by her classroom stood a hydroponic table where her class and others can begin to grow foods like lettuces and herbs, adding to the foods grown in the school’s outdoor garden. Clark chose items for the school’s existing rooftop weather station, which needs updating, as well as new items for the school’s television station — a green screen, camera and teleprompter — where students provide daily “MMTV” broadcasts on current events and the weather.

In showing off her winnings Friday, Clark admitted that science is her favorite subject. She said she tries to instill in her students a curiosity in the world around them. She said she encourages them to recognize that they, as citizens, can explore and study and provide information about nature to help contribute to the science community.

“Just like reading and writing — we understand that’s important — but science is important as well,” she said. “We are citizens and we need to help take care of our planet.”

Jennifer Tyrell, senior education project manager with the Department of Energy institute, or ORISE, said Clark was among 31 candidates. There were six winners in all, three first-place winners and three runners-up, who won $5,000. The first- and second-place winning pairs were in Richmond, Baltimore and Washington. Richmond’s runner-up is Armstrong High biology teacher Desiree Perkins.

Mission Possible works to “give teachers ... new technology to provide a better educational experience for students,” Tyrell said, students “who are going to become the next generation workforce for the CIA and other intelligence community organizations, as well as all the [STEAM] fields.”

Teachers had to submit short videos explaining why they needed new technology and what they planned to do with it.

Tyrell said part of Clark’s vision was to improve the school’s weather station, so that “they’re collecting their own data ... instead of going out and getting data that other people have collected.”

“That’s super important [because] they’re doing it firsthand,” she added, “a great skill for any future STEAM professional.”

Fourth-grader Exie Conner-Holley said she’s most excited about using the hydroponic system to grow food, explaining that “I love gardening — that’s one of my main hobbies.” She said her experience extends to growing a variety of foods like broccoli, watermelon, asparagus, tomatoes and more. She said the hydroponic system means “a little bit smaller spaces, so it’s going to be a little bit more challenging, but we also do have a garden [outside], which will be more helpful.”

Conner-Holley called Clark “a great teacher.”

“She’s so generous,” she added, “and she cares about everyone in the class.”

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