Hands On: UNO's Graduate Chemical Society Helps to Educate Students At Akili Academy of New Orleans

The Graduate Chemical Society at the University of New Orleans is reaching out to the local community and helping to educate elementary school children this fall. Already this year, UNO graduate students of chemistry have worked with more than 150 students at Akili Academy of New Orleans, introducing them to the world of science through fun and exciting hands-on experiments.

“This went from ‘Let’s do volunteer work,’ and ‘that’s nice’ to making this a more formalized structured partnership that supports what they’re doing with their curriculums,” said Lindsey Jakiel, recruitment and retention coordinator for UNO’s chemistry program and College of Sciences.

Akili Academy of New Orleans, located at 1700 Pratt Drive, is an elementary public charter school located in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. The school opened in August 2008, and serves 305 students in kindergarten through fourth grade with plans to add additional kindergarten classes each year until the school has reached its full capacity as a K-8 school in 2015, according to the school’s website.

“I want students to really start to develop a deeper love for learning,” said Jessica Pivik, director of curriculum and instruction for grades K-2 at Akili. “We can use science to help develop inquiry based learning and a drive to want to succeed and to want to learn.”

Last spring, UNO’s Graduate Chemical Society decided to do a community outreach service program and chose Akili as their point of focus because of its aim to educate young learners and its location near the UNO campus. Following visits to Akili last spring, the chemical society decided to work with Pivik to formalize their partnership and each semester expose students to experiments that complement school curriculum.

UNO’s Graduate Chemical Society visited classes on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 and has plans to return to the school Nov. 29. Members of the Graduate Chemical Society will also visit Akili — where students attend classes in trailers while they wait for new buildings from the Recovery School District — in spring for a total of six visits to the school this year.

“Each grade will be visited twice in an academic year. A child who is a kindergartener will interact with some graduate chemistry student twice this year and for the next three years,” said Jakiel, who said the youngsters were excited to meet real scientists. “…Students will benefit from being able to associate going to college and graduate school getting a science degree with someone whom they know.”

Over the last two weeks, UNO graduate students in chemistry have taught kindergarteners about colors in nature through demonstrations about rainbows and prisms and taught second graders about the weather and seasons by conducting “tornado in a bottle” experiments. In November, they will help Akili first graders experiment with static electricity.

“Chemists can come off as cold because “we’re so wrapped up in our research. Even if we’re not in the lab, we’re thinking about the lab,’ that to pull [graduate students] out of that and show them there’s something else outside the lab, I mean that’s exactly what I wanted,” said Richie Prevost, chemistry doctoral student and Graduate Chemical Society member. “To me, it’s not all about work, it’s about the community, and that’s what we did and I hope we get to keep doing it.