“We have never placed, and I’ve been at this school for 26 years,” SSP Fellow Randa Flinn says of her school’s participation in science fairs. However, Northeast High School in Oakland Park Florida, where more than half of the students are black or Hispanic and 52 percent are economically disadvantaged, had a very different story to tell in 2011. “This year we had six of our kids place,” Randa says. “I was astounded.”
Out of the 15 projects that competed, the most allowed from any school, one got second place, one received third place, and four got fourth place. Two students also later received special awards. “I was really excited for the kids,” Randa says. “They worked so hard.” The second place winner, a sophomore, was taking chemistry and applying that new knowledge to her project on marine pollutants. “I loved that she got to see the application,” Randa says. The third place winner, only a freshman, won for discovering that a common paint used on boats affects brine shrimps’ heart rates.
Randa credits this year’s great success with the funds and support provided by SSP, which helped her convince her school to create a class for independent research. The Fellowship, with generous support from Intel, provides $8,500 annually, along with other support. Before the SSP fellowship, students at Randa’s school would work on their projects at lunch and after school, or even work in the back of the classroom at the same time Randa was teaching another class. The students were often frustrated at not having enough time, attention, and support to help them reach their full potential. While there are still many late nights for both Randa and her students, the SSP grant has helped Randa tackle many challenges.
“The training, this summer, for me was really helpful,” Randa says of the intensive week of training and networking during the Fellows Institute in July 2010. The program has also paired her with a mentor from the SSP Fellows class above her, Maja Fickett, and Randa continues to collaborate with Fellows from her own year including Mike Lampert in Oregon. Even though they are a country apart, their classes have Skyped together, and the kids have motivated each other to work harder on their research.
Randa also used SSP funds to bring in an expert on data analysis. “My little, quick stats lesson just wasn’t enough,” she says of the complicated techniques students needed to employ. “It was nice to have money so that I could pay these people to come in and help me during class. I don’t think I could have gotten it done otherwise, the right way.”