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Horizons Unlimited receives $180,000 Burroughs Wellcome grant

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Officials at Horizons Unlimited said they hope that a new grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund will help them bridge the gap between middle and high school.

The center is the recipient of a Student Science Enrichment Program grant, which will award Horizons $60,000 per year for three years. Horizons is one of 13 organizations in the state to receive one of the grants, which total approximately $2.1 million, according to a press release sent by the Borroughs Wellcome Fund. The grants support informal science education programs that take place outside of the traditional classroom time.

Neil Pifer, planetarium director at Horizons, said the grant fit a program he and others had dreamed of, and said the funding allowed them to “think big.”

In 2017, Horizons is looking to launch a program that will connect middle school enthusiasm with high school science. Rowan-Salisbury eighth graders tend to do well in science-based assessments, Pifer said, but that number drops dramatically once the students enter high school. Sometimes the adjustment from middle to high school — with its increased socialization, responsibilities and rigor — is just too much, and science falls to the wayside.

“There’s a big jump. Going from middle to high school is a giant jump,” he said.

Pifer said he also often heard praise for talented students who had the potential to get into prestigious colleges.

“And then we follow up with them and that’s not happening, for whatever reason,” he said of the students.

The school system also has a very small number of science clubs, Pifer said. The program to be funded by the grant, Building Research Investigators Doing Growth Experiences (BRIDGE), seeks to address these issues and create a “network of intense science learning.”

“We saw the need and we wanted to bridge middle and high school,” he said.

Starting in 2017, Horizons will begin looking at current seventh graders who are passionate about science. And that won’t necessarily be the student with straight A’s, Pifer said, it will be the student who tinkers, who’s curious or who gets excited.

“We want to identify kids that are really talented and maybe they’re flying under the radar right now …” he said.

Students will apply to the program as seventh graders, and if they’re accepted, their BRIDGE cohort begins in eighth grade. Thanks to the grant, the students will be able to take eight science field experiences during the school year, followed by a week-long camp in Arden the following summer, where they would work with scientists in area. All expenses are covered by the grant, and students will be able to work with scientists and build a portfolio for college.

The program would continue in the students’ ninth and 10th grade years. Each year, a new cohort of eighth graders would also be added to the program. Pifer said the grant would allow for approximately 60 students per cohort.

“We’re hoping that this particular program will … form a support system,” Pifer said.

Pifer said Horizons is working to make the program sustainable after the grant money runs out.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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