Deerfield middle school has outdated science labs
Christian Ball, a sixth-grade science teacher at Shepard Middle School in Deerfield, points out the sink and broken counter in one of the outdated labs built decades ago. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 14, 2012 8:20AM
DEERFIELD — While students at Shepard Middle School in Deerfield continue to meet or exceed science and academic expectations, according to principal Michael Shapiro, they’re making do with less, and with outdated spaces.
At a District 109 meeting last month, 7th-grade science teacher Ann Blythe shed light on the primitive conditions she said her students have for a learning environment. Last week, Blythe went into more detail, citing the physical limitations she and her students face on a daily basis: one of them being electrical outlets against only one wall.
“Instead of having a full class participate (on microscopes), only half of the class can go at a time,” Blythe said. “You can’t fit 25 kids long 10-15 feet of space. The electrical accessibility doesn’t exist.”
She also said the students lose their momentum and interest in the project while waiting their turn on the equipment.
Blythe said about 10 years ago, her classroom was in one of the building’s two newer science labs, built in 2001, but due to scheduling changes, she was relocated to one of the four older science labs.
“Some activities we were able to do in the newer rooms, we were unable to do in the older rooms,” Blythe said. “Anything with chemistry where you have to worry about ventilation can’t be done in the older rooms, unless you open the windows, which doesn’t guarantee the air is even circulating.”
Blythe said, on occasions, the teachers in the newer labs will agree to switch rooms with her for a day, to allow her students to try a new experiment, but said that can only go so far.
“If I have students that are absent, I can’t get them back into that room, so they lose on that opportunity,” Blythe said. “Also, if I find something (experiment) that is really innovative, I can’t try it in the older labs.”
Blythe said the older labs don’t have gas running to them, due to a gas leak some 10 years ago.
“They (the school) turned off the gas permanently,” Blythe said. “We have no gas, and only one or two sinks.”
The lack of equipment and outdated rooms don’t help in getting the students excited for science, Blythe said, pointing out that some students’ parents worked in the same labs with some of the same equipment.
“What’s missing is the exposure to being in a laboratory setting,” Blythe said. “If you’re in a sports arena you get more excited about the sport. I want to spark more additional curiosity, the room doesn’t look inviting to come do science.”
Shapiro said the four older labs are likely from the 1970s, but that the two newer labs have “fairly new equipment” and are ventilated.
“The oldest rooms are a challenge,” Shapiro said. “It’s a serious need to consider, and I feel like there’s awareness of that fact at the district and administration level.
“We have great teachers and great kids,” Shapiro continued. “Because we have such quality staff and such solid curriculum, we’re still meeting all the standards and all the things necessary to achieve when it comes to science.”
Cathy Kedjidjian, coordinator of communications and community relations for the district, said the recently passed 3 percent tax levy from the school district does not account for middle school science upgrades, only for upkeep of current facilities.