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Partners with the public schools.

As principal of John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans, Anita Dumas likes to think she has the educational equivalent to a Louisiana oil well right in her own back yard.

"For a number of years. 8 to 10 now, Kennedy has been trying to establish a math-science academy, but there's never been adequate funding." Dumas says. "Nevertheless, Kennedy has a reputation for stressing math and sciences."

At a time when educators throughout Louisiana scrap for tightly-clenched dollars. Dumas has successfully tapped the resources of a neighboring institution, the Agricultural Research Service.

JFK students couldn't pay for the education they've received from the school's partnership with ARS. Dumas says. "Where else could you have one-on-one contact with scientists?"

"We have been a New Orleans public schools' partner in education for several years," says Alan R. Lax, plant physiologist and community education coordinator at ARS' Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC). "Our student mentor program was established as an offshoot of this partnership."

Dumas, however, wasn't al-together unfamiliar with the New Orleans center. Several teachers, at JFK had participated in the agency's Teacher's Research Fellowship Program.

One of those to go through the teacher's program was designated by Dumas to spearhead the student program between the center and school.

"From my experience, I was able to relate to students what type of work I did and how important it was doing research work." says Lemona Chandler, a chemistry and biology teacher. "To me, this program is an opportunity for students to actually work alongside a scientist."

"Many of my students were enthusiastic. They always read about scientists and researchers, but they never really see an actual research scientist working," she adds.

In the 1989-90 school year, John A. Barkate, director of the New Orleans center, and Dumas tested the program by giving 10 JFK students a chance to work in microbiology, chemistry, and biology with federal researchers. Chandler periodically checked on those students' progress with the participating, SRRC scientists.

"Shortly after I became director of this center, I visited with Dr. Dumas to introduce myself and determine how we could help each other as neighbors," Barkate recalls. "We soon arranged for SRRC scientists to give presentations to the various science classes at John F. Kennedy and provide tours of the center.

"We wanted to make teachers and students more aware of the scientific talent and facilities at SRRC," he adds. "This led to the idea that these students could benefit from spending some time working with a scientist at the center, a mentor who could encourage some of them to pursue science as a career."

As word of the mentor program spread through the halls and classrooms of JFK High, competition for an expanded 12-student program in the second year was fierce.

"We got more than the number we needed. Enough that we had to turn students away," Dumas says.

Now in its third year, the school's mentor program with SRRC has expanded from its 1-hour-a-day format to 3 hours. Chandler says the students involved in this year's expanded program are facing more responsibility by working on their own research projects. with SRRC scientists providing technical assistance.

"Each will have to make a presentation of a specific project, in writing as well as orally just like professional scientists do," Chandler says.

Angela Archer, 17, is working in SRRC'S Food Flavor Quality Research Unit on compiling and translating research results via computer. Ultimately, Angela hopes to set up a computer program that gives scientists ready access to a bank of information needed to reach conclusions on various experiments.

I was going, into medicine first, but now I think I'll be going, into computer sciences," says Angela, who plans to attend Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans next year.

"This isn't a class you can goof off in. You have to have a good mind. you have to be a good student." she adds. "The 3 hours each day helps you be a lot more done and you learn a lot more."

Scientist Alan Lax says the only expense to ARS to run the mentor program is researcher time. He considers the program an investment in ARS' future by encouraging students early to choose a career in agricultural sciences.

"It's really a recruiting tool to increase student awareness of opportunities within USDA and ARS," Lax says. "While the program is in its infancy, I think we've opened eyes for potential employment in the agency.

Chandler remembers a past student who was so enthusiastic when the program ended that he reported. "I want to come back from college and work here again."

Althouah the program is limited to seniors. Dumas says the experiences gained by these students has rubbed off throughout the entire JFK student body.

"By working at SRRC they are able to come back to the classroom and tell other students about what they are doing," Chandler says. "They keep a log on the experiments they run so they're able to share this with other students."

The SRRC/JFK program is also giving high school students a jump on college, says 17-year-old Velton Welch. Along with SRRC geneticist Hurley Shepherd. Welch is studying the production rate of natural toxins in different strains of fungi isolated from cotton seed at the center's Environmental Technolooy Research Unit.

"By working, here at the lab, I think I'll get a good background in the scientific terminology," says Welch, who hopes to attend the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. "In this program you cet to see what you're doing, instead of reading about it in a book."

Chandler also keeps track of mentor students once they go to college. She says the number of students who later pursue science careers in college is an objective measurement of the program's success.
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Title Annotation:Agricultural Research Service
Author:Kinzel, Bruce
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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