Faculty aim to not “overload” students after Covid

Hannah Dalton, contributing writer

The Nantucket High School Science Fair has been put on hold for yet another year. Last year in the midst of the pandemic and hybrid learning schedule, a science fair was just not possible. This year, NHS science teacher Jonelle Gurley has taken over the role of being in charge of this important school event. She has decided that in an attempt to not “overload” students adjusting to their return to school after a year and a half of on and off remote learning, the science fair will once again not be officially happening this year. 

Traditionally, the science fair involves students conducting their own research on a science topic of their choice. There is quite a lot of preparation that goes into students being ready to present their ideas. They get to work with mentors and experienced scientists and must use the scientific method: creating hypotheses, conducting experiments, making observations, and drawing conclusions. They are then required to report their findings to judges as well as their teachers through posters at the science fair itself. Getting ready for the science fair takes weeks of hard work, but students who fully engage themselves and appreciate the experience can certainly get a lot out of it. 

Taking this year off will provide a break during which teachers, in particular, Gurley, will plan next year’s event, and ensure that it goes as smoothly as it possibly can. Gurley acknowledges that students have had a lot on their plates for these past years, and believes that giving a break this year while working to improve next year’s science fair is the best and most beneficial option for students. She explained that she thinks “the focus this year should be recalibrating and readjusting to life post-Covid as well as using this opportunity to refine our practices and expectations”, adding that she would like to work with mentors as well as produce a “well articulated plan” for next year. 

While the science fair will still have most of the aspects that everyone has seen before, it will be an improved version. Gurley explained that the plan for next year should be “clearly defined” and she hopes to include “clear deadlines listed as well as rubrics that help students to engage in their work as well as work independently while appropriately being mentored and guided”. She would also like the future science fair to be open to faculty and community members. The new and improved science fair will be planned with students in mind, allowing them to have well organized instructions and learn as much as they can from this “successful and rewarding” experience.  

It’s no secret that some students dread participating in the science fair, but according to teachers in the science department, doing so is extremely beneficial. Gurley feels very strongly about this, and her support of its value is undeniable. First off, she stated that, “students gain so much insight into the world by going through the scientific method under stewardship and mentorship from experienced scientists”. The process of participating in the science fair is not only useful to students who would like to pursue science and research in the future. The problem solving and research skills are important for every student. Gurley even believes that such participation is empowering to young people.

She also explained that, “science fair embodies all of the skills in the vision of the graduate and with our continuous NEASC work, it’s important as a department and coordinator to really take a step back and ensure that our practices and guidelines are aligned with the VOG skills and that it provides an experience for students that is both profound and unique”. The NEASC, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, is a third party who provides accreditation for schools that meet their standards for education and student preparation.

Much of Gurley’s intense support for this event comes from her own personal experiences and how they have affected her so positively. She reflected on her own undergraduate career, explaining, “I was given the extraordinary opportunity to independently plan, research, execute and present on a topic and to be quite frank it was the culminating experience of my collegiate career.” Remembering her own success with this has led her to the hope that “budding scientists” can feel the same way if they are given the tools they need to do so. She anticipates that with this year of planning, next year’s science fair can be so successful that this hope can become a reality. 

While the science fair isn’t officially happening, students who are still interested in participating regionally or nationally do have some options. They can find out more about this and “discuss topics of interest and mentorship opportunities” by seeing Ms. Gurley who is “available to help students navigate that process wholeheartedly”.

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