Engaging and Empowering Urban Youth Through Schoolyard Habitat Restoration and Conservation Education – An Innovative Middle School Program

Principal Investigator: Dr. Christine Li

Institution and/or Affiliation University of Missouri

Project Description:

The team will study how to design an interdisciplinary, natural sciences + schoolyard garden and conservation activities to engage and empower urban youth in an informal, after-school program. They will investigate how to leverage the collaboration among university, agency, K-12 schools, and a green space as learning site to engage women, minorities, and urban students who would typically shy away from STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) 2 to learn about Missouri natural resources, wildlife and habitat, native plant garden, aquatic resources, prairie restoration, and soil health. The funding will allow the team to advance new approaches and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of effective gateway to STEM learning in informal environments. The project includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research to broaden participation among underrepresented groups, assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understanding of how to measure conservation awareness among youth.

Objective 1 Establish an Effective Partnership Model to Connect Higher Education and K-12

Women and minorities make up 50% of the total U.S. workforce, but are far less represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (White & Massiha, 2016). Missouri has a large gap between the number of men earning degrees and certificates and the number of women earning them in STEM degrees (U.S. Department of Education, 2001-2016). Minorities (African American, Latinos, and American Indian/Alaska Native) are underrepresented in STEM-related degrees in Missouri (MO). Although minorities constitute one fifth of the college population, less than 10% earned degrees and certificates in STEM (U.S. Department of Education, 2001-2016). The challenge for enrolling and engaging women and minorities begin early in K-12 education. While all groups of Missouri 4th graders fall below the proficiency mark in math, African American and minorities score lower in 4th grade math performance than their peers, ranking among the bottom ten in this category nationwide. For low-income 8th graders, MO ranks 46th in 8th grade in math and science performance which among the bottom ten in this category. While some MO women and minority students have access to advanced math and science classes, historically, women and minority students still need better access than their majority peers Missouri is in the great need to prepare and provide stronger connections for women and minorities to learn for STEM-related subject. More STEM educational youth program and materials need to be developed and tested for effectiveness to engage women and minority students. With women accounting for less than 25% of the total STEM workforce (Beede et al., 2011), the literature suggest the most face some form of adversity in navigating a career path (Ambrose et al., 2002). We will build the program by strengthening the near peer mentorship which has been well documented as an effective approach  for engaging and empowering our core stakeholders – urban youths.  

Objective 2 Restore the Schoolyard Outdoor Classroom as a Prairie and Pollinator Garden

(Develop and Evaluate an Experiential Learning Program Curriculum)  The team will work together to transform a schoolyard green space (Figure 2) to a prairie and pollinator garden, develop a series of experiential learning curriculum, and take actions together for site preparation, planting, and maintaining the outdoor classroom. To make the program and curriculum attractive to schools administrator, we will correlate all of the lesson plans and activities with Missouri teaching standards and Next Generation Science Standards. This will be a yearlong after school program. We will meet students twice a month from September 2018 to June 2019.