The Rye City School District’s revised bond referendum, which residents will consider on March 13, has been scaled back in scope, but it will address the critical issue: high school science labs that hinder students’ ability to participate in experiments and assignments.
By Patricia Taylor, RHS Principal
The Rye City School District’s revised bond referendum, which residents will consider on March 13, has been scaled back in scope, but it will address the critical issue: high school science labs that hinder students’ ability to participate in experiments and assignments. These labs, dating back to the 1960s and ’70s, do not provide the functional equipment and adequate electricity which are necessary for students to fully experience the hands-on science lessons that are part of today’s curriculum.
With ever-growing advancements being made across the field of science, more and more governing bodies are requiring lab time for their courses and exams. The Regents, for one, uses the completion of lab hours as a prerequisite for admission into the exam, which is taken by all Rye High School Regents-level students. The College Board is changing changing the AP Biology course/exam next year and the AP Chemistry course/exam the following year to shift from a content-based approach to a more skills-focused one.
Lab experience is vital for students to fully understand and succeed in today’s challenging science education programs, and with that comes the need for adequate lab facilities. As stated in the National Academy of Science publication, America’s Lab Report (which is used by the College Board), “Direct observation and manipulation of many aspects of the material work require adequate laboratory facilities, including space for teacher demonstrations, student laboratory activities, student discussion, and safe storage space for supplies.”
Rye High School’s existing lab facilities restrict learning assignments. In subjects such as AP Chemistry and AP Environmental Science, up to 50% and 95% of lab experiments, respectively, are constrained by the current conditions. In chemistry labs requiring flame tests, the cabinets in some rooms are too low for students to use Bunsen Burners. The same goes for experiments using fume hoods; assignments are completed as demonstrations by teachers due to non-working fume hoods, and can only be performed on days when there is enough wind to vent the fumes out the windows.
In other cases, students are frequently required to work in groups larger than what is ideal, which not only limits what they are able to see and do firsthand, but also takes more time. Biology students must work in groups of 4-5 for heart dissections, and large groups are required to share microscopes for cheek and onion cell labs.
Another major issues is the lack of an ample electrical supply. In several rooms, the simultaneous use of more than two hotplates or AC voltage sources will cause a fuse to blow. This makes it impossible for students to participate in certain Chemistry and Physics experiments that must instead be demonstrated by a teacher.
Improperly draining sinks pose challenges as well; students lining up to use sinks during labs can be a safety concern and also cause students to rush, which leads to slides and materials accidentally falling into the drains.
Rye High School and its science department look forward to classrooms that will allow them to engage students in the act of learning instead of watching it. We look forward, with great anticipation, to what an approved bond would provide.