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County Recognizes NIH Service to Public Education

By Deborah Barnes

The Montgomery County Board of Education has presented an award to NIH for distinguished service to public education. Reginald Felton, president of the board, notified NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus in October that NIH would be among the first recipients of the annual award. Bruce Fuchs, acting director of the Office of Science Education, received the award on behalf of NIH at a Dec. 9 ceremony in Rockville.

"NIH is the first institution we thought of for this award," said Sandra Shmookler, special assistant to the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). "So much that we have been able to do -- in terms of mentoring students and teachers -- is because of NIH." For several decades, NIH has participated in community education projects including workshops for biology and chemistry teachers, development of a scientist speakers bureau, and a collaborative student internship project with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also received an award.

Fuchs accepted the award on behalf of scientists at NIH who had volunteered their time to help MCPS. Some participate in adopt-a-school programs, or visit schools to speak about careers in science. In addition to such organized activities, "a lot of individuals are volunteering their time and no one ever knows about it," Fuchs said. He encourages NIH scientists to participate in systemic reform efforts within the school system, many of which are based on the national science education standards published last year by the National Academy of Sciences.

Students Rachel Turner (l) and Olivia Lee of Rockville's Wootton High School prepare for their NIH lab experience. NIH scientists give the lectures in a joint MCPS-NIH-HHMI program.

One of NIH's main educational projects is development of curriculum supplements for different grade levels. This year, three NIH institutes -- NCI, NIAID and NHGRI -- are developing curriculum materials in collaboration with the textbook publisher Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. MCPS will be one of the field-test sites for the materials, which will be published in print and on the Office of Science Education Web site. The supplement package, scheduled for release in September 1999, will also include a CD-ROM. Next year, NIDR will develop curriculum materials for elementary students, NIEHS will produce materials for middle school students, and NIDA will target high school students.

In another major education effort, NIH is helping to develop materials for the Health Curriculum Online. The project is funded chiefly by the Office of Research on Women's Health and is designed primarily for middle school girls, although boys can also learn from the information. The project is somewhat unusual. Students are given information about a mock "patient's" symptoms and then asked to discover what medical condition the person has. Students are guided step-by-step through the diagnostic process as they ask for lab tests, receive results and make a diagnosis. The exercises are structured to stimulate students to think about their own predispositions to certain diseases such as diabetes or cancer as they consider their sex, family history and ethnic background.

Scientists interested in knowing more about NIH's educational programs for local schools should contact Gloria Seelman, Office of Science Education, 402-2469.

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