Teachers get schooled by Triangle employers

Teachers from schools across North Carolina — including two dozen teachers from 21 schools that partner with North Carolina New Schools — are getting valuable lessons in relevance this summer through paid externships that provide first-hand experience in the “real world” of math, science and other fields.

Davie County teacher Melanie Stancill (left) examines a scaffold of a nose — made from polycaprolactone, or PCL — as she learns about 3D bioprinting.
Davie County teacher Melanie Stancill (left) examines a scaffold of a nose — made from polycaprolactone, or PCL — as she learns about 3D bioprinting.

NC New Schools encourages and supports employers and community organizations in providing work-based experiences for educators through formal externships, fellowships, field studies and workshops. In the past three years, more than 400 educators have benefited from these and other industry-linked experiences, which teachers translate into lessons and curriculum materials for their students and colleagues across the state.

Through exposure to working science labs, day-to-day operations of big-league employers and the inner workings of health-care organizations, teachers are gaining perspective to help students bridge the gap between classroom and workplace. Increasingly, teachers and employers must work together to ensure that teaching and learning are both relevant and focused on the competitive job market graduates are entering. As teachers gain more industry-based experiences and better understand the modern workplace, they’re better equipped to bring the world of work into the classroom.

Next week, four teachers from high schools oriented to biotechnology and agriscience are getting a close-up look at Syngenta, one of the world’s leading companies in over 90 countries dedicated to “bringing plant potential to life.” Syngenta is an innovator of agricultural technologies for farmers around the world. The company’s biotechnology development center in Research Triangle Park has been developing new seed varieties for 30 years. The center’s founding leader, Mary-Dell Chilton, was named a 2013 World Food Prize laureate and Tar Heel of the Year by The News & Observer of Raleigh for her scientific contributions to increasing the world’s food supply.

The teachers participating in the eight-day program will explore biotechnology through the various lenses of research, development and commercialization. After spending two days at the RTP facility, the teachers will travel to Minnesota and Washington, D.C., to see other aspects of the business before returning to the RTP research labs. The program concludes the following week with three days at NC New Schools developing lessons and projects for application in their own classrooms and for sharing with other teachers.

Eleven teachers from schools in the Triangle to schools as far away as Polk County are in the midst of learning from scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park through a partnership with NC New Schools. The two-week externship program is designed to enhance science teachers’ understanding of biomedical basic research and help them apply it to their classroom instruction. Teachers are engaging in lab investigations, lectures and group discussions. They’re working on DNA cloning and learning from research scientists about topics ranging from cancer biology to bioinformatics.

Other Triangle employers offering externships this summer are BASF, Duke Medicine, Duke Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the LORD Corporation, and WakeMed. Stipends and lodging for the teachers are provided by participating employers or in combination with two other partners of NC New Schools, Quintiles and ABB.