by SC Reporter Wendy McMullen
Being selected as one of only 10 STEM scholars to participate in the University of Western Kentucky’s prestigious National Stem Scholar Program not only benefits Sanibel School Science teacher Michele Mitnitsky but also students at the Sanibel School and possibly the island as a whole.
Ten middle school science teachers are selected each year from a national pool of hundreds based on a “big idea” Challenge Project. The project Mitnitsky selected was to study the best conditions in which to grow different types of mangroves.
So next school year, Mitnitsky’s sixth and seventh grade students in The Sanibel School will be collecting mangrove seeds from the beach and planting them in a variety of substrates and watering them to examine the results.
“It fits into the curriculum really well, because we talk about erosion and weathering with the hurricane as a perfect example,” she said. “Then in seventh grade, we talk about plants, ecosystems and what plants need to maintain homeostasis to be able to grow.”
Mitnitsky is going to work with both classes throughout the year experimenting with different types of mangroves in different substrates or soils and irrigating with different salinities of water.
“So we’re going to try a little bit of everything and see what’s most successful,” she said. .”And hopefully at the end of this project, the students will have mangroves to replant where they are needed.”
The project is particularly valuable at this time because mangroves in some critical areas were totally destroyed. One important area was fronting, the road leading to Woodring Point where mangroves protect the road by preventing sand from washing away. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is working to replant the mangrove fringe in this area.
But Mitnitsky says that the most valuable part of the week-long program was the opportunity to learn from the other scholars in the program and network with STEM thought leaders throughout the country.
“We’re all doing similar things in our own ways,” reported Mitnitsky. “Opening your mind up and getting feedback and making those connections is really most important.”
Mitnitsky, originally from New York, has lived and taught in Thessaloniki, Greece, The Bahamas and New Hampshire and came to Florida four years ago. She has been with The Sanibel School three years and loves the small town feel
“It’s like being in New Hampshire where it’s small and you have to make connections and get involved. There’s a lot out here to do and I’m still learning. So making those connections, hopefully, this year will be a really fun year.”
Mitnitsky, who always loved science and whose mother was a teacher, gravitated toward teaching after graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Hofstra University on Long Island.
She was selected from hundreds of applicants for the National STEM Scholar Program, which is a unique professional development program providing advanced STEM training, national network building and project support for middle school science teachers nationwide.
During the week-long course on Gatton’s campus at Western Kentucky University, scholars work with professors from Western Kentucky University and a former STEM Scholar who all provide help in designing the project.
Students leave with a laptop or tablet computer to facilitate ongoing collaboration, a stipend for technology and supplies to help implement the projects . They also receive mentoring throughout the year and sponsored attendance at the Science Teaching National Conference.
Now in its 8th year, there are 80 National STEM Scholars representing middle schools in 33 states. National STEM Scholars have directly and indirectly impacted more than 104,000 middle school students in the U.S.
The online National STEM Scholar Library provides instructional videos, project-based science lessons, and custom curriculum developed specifically for the National STEM Scholar Program. The Library is available free of charge for parents, students, and teachers.