The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and Drexel University’s School of Education recently received a $1.35 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support early childhood education efforts that focus on science, math, nutrition and literacy skills. The effort will provide resources to early childhood educators, students and families throughout Philadelphia.
The grant, entitled “Science Education Partnership Award” (SEPA), is an initiative of the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), and was awarded in partnership with GrowingGreat, a nonprofit empowering children to make healthy food choices through hands-on science and garden education.
SEPA benefits a program called “Seeds to STEM” in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Seeds to STEM is a research-based, bilingual program that works with educators, providers, families and children aged 3 to 5 to promote early science, technology, engineering and math skills, literacy and nutrition to help prepare children for kindergarten. The grant will support the development of curricula, professional development resources and family activities aimed at strengthening early childhood education. More than half of the families who will benefit from the program live in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone.
“It is critically important for institutions like the Academy and research-practitioners, like myself, to listen to and partner with families and early childhood providers to help eliminate the barriers to high-quality early STEM and literacy experience for young Black and Latinx students,” said Jacquie Genovesi, PhD, vice president for the Center for STEAM Equity in the Academy and associate professor in the School of Education. “Seeds to STEM allows us to partner with early childhood practitioners and families to develop, design and implement research-based practices to ensure all children are ready for kindergarten.”
According to Mariah Romaninsky manager of Early Childhood Programs in the Academy, inquiry-based STEM education is not often presented in pre-K classrooms, and until recently, its power to increase literacy skills among very young children had not been widely recognized.
“Modeling and mentoring for teachers in the classroom benefit all generations of kids coming through that classroom door. That knowledge gets passed along for as long as that teacher teaches,” said Romaninsky. “We are working together as community partners. We are there to be a part of the scene and become not just an outside source, but friends and partners for real.”
Adreinne Briggs opened Lil’ Bits Family Child Care in West Philadelphia nearly 30 years ago. In the past three years, she has been working closely with Romaninsky and the Academy to strengthen the STEM and literacy activities she shares with her students.
"Mariah and the program have been heaven-sent because they have opened the door to so many experiences for myself and my students. We have been enlightened about bugs, worms and tortoises," said Briggs. "These were experiences that many may have never had, and I can't wait to share more with them thanks to this new initiative."
Having resources from and sharing knowledge with a partner like the Academy has made every difference for the educators, students and families that the program reaches, according to Genovesi, the project’s co-principal investigator.
“Access to high quality STEM and literacy education are key building blocks to a child’s development,” said Penny Hammrich, PhD, dean and distinguished university professor in the School of Education. “We are excited to partner with the Academy and GrowingGreat to complete this important work that will benefit some of the most vulnerable children in our area and help them grow and thrive in school.”
In 2019 the partnership between the Academy and early childhood education providers that was funded by the William Penn Foundation, PNC Bank and the Institute of Museum and Library Services resulted in a 100% increase in the number of children enrolled in high-quality providers. Now, 57% of early childhood providers have a high-quality rating, up from 22%, in part due to the guidance Academy staff provide in classrooms and learning centers.