"Faucet drips, teardrops, rainfall and oceans: How does water connect us all?" Rider University’s School of Education High School Teacher Academy students spent three intensive weeks engaged in an inquiry project that uncovered the importance of water in our world.  These Mercer County students are future science teachers embarking upon their academic and professional journeys now.  A collaboration between Rider University, Princeton University, and local school districts, the academy provides high-quality science instruction by area professionals.  

In January 2010, Rider received a grant from Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Foundation, one of Johnson & Johnson’s operating companies based in Mercer County, to implement the academy, which ran daily from July 6 through July 22 for six hours per day. Ten students from local schools, including Ewing High School, Hamilton High School West, Notre Dame High School and Trenton Central High School, were selected to participate in the program.

“The program was designed to give kids a hands-on experience with inquiry learning, specifically in science, in a college environment,” said Dr. Kathleen Pierce, chair of Graduate Education at Rider. “A lot of what they are learning they can take with them in the fall and potentially see themselves as successful college students.”

Rider Teacher Academy instructors Jim Messermith and Sister John Ann Proach and graduate student Cristen Fowler facilitated discovery and inquiry with students each day. On one particular day, the students conducted an analysis of water samples from local lakes, rivers, and streams, including Rider’s own lake.

Bridget Franz, an incoming freshman at Ewing High School, who was testing the pH level and dissolved oxygen content of a water sample, said she has always liked science because she enjoys how the subject involves hands-on learning. While she had some background in chemistry, she thought the class/lab during the academy provided a more in-depth experience. She looks forward to further study in chemistry.

In addition to the inquiry project, the students had a chance to visit the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, bond with their participating peers, and explore life on a college campus. The students took a tour of Rider’s Lawrenceville campus and later attended a seminar, run by Joshualynn Johnson, assistant director of Admissions, and Rubin Joyner, director of Educational Opportunity Program, about getting into college and being successful.

Allison Ruszczyk, a junior at Notre Dame High School, said she applied for the academy because she has always enjoyed science and math, and she has thought about becoming a high-school science or math teacher. In addition the class/lab component of the academy, Ruszczyk said she enjoyed visiting the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and learning about the possibilities of attending college.

The students also learned about the teaching profession, including classroom management, 21st century technology in the classroom and diverse learners. For example, Suzanne Carbonaro, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education/Assessment Coordinator and adjunct assistant professor of Communication, led a seminar about communication and technology in classrooms.

Other seminar facilitators included Don Brown, director of Multicultural Affairs at Rider; Dr. Barbara Blandford, director of Services for Students with Disabilities at Rider; Ray Broach, former Ewing schools superintendent; and Dr. Sven Strnad, fifth-grade teacher at Millstone River Elementary School in Plainsboro, N.J.  Princeton University’s Princeton-Blairstown Center instructors provided mentoring in social and emotional learning.

Many of the participating students said the experience opened their eyes to what it is like to attend college, as well as career opportunities in education and the sciences.

“As a scientist, you have to be able to communicate what you do. Research is a small part of it,” Proach concluded.

Sharon Sherman, dean of the School of Education, explained that science teaching is a shortage area in the state and nation.  “This grow-your-own science teacher program is one strategy for recruiting highly qualified teachers for the schools in our backyard.” Districts can learn more about the Rider University Teacher Academy by visiting rider.edu/education.