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Bank, St. Louis Science Center experiment with partnership

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

(Photo)
Saint Louis Science Center Senior Vice President Carol Valenta talks about the many possibilities to inspire science education in Southeast Missouri as Mongtomery Bank CEO Troy Wilson listens Monday.
SIKESTON -- Using the Internet as an educational tool is fine, but children still need learning opportunities such as real experiences and objects, which is one of the reasons behind the recent partnership of the Saint Louis Science Center and Montgomery Bank.

"The whole point is to reach young people and get them interested in the world around them, and then work with their parents and teachers to sustain that interest," said Doug King, Saint Louis Science Center president and CEO. "In the long run, it leads to education."

On Monday officials with Saint Louis Science Center and Montgomery Bank met with teachers and business leaders in Sikeston and Cape Girardeau to listen to input regarding the types of exhibits and information they would like to see in the area.

Montgomery Bank announced in March its sponsorship of the 17,000-

square-foot, air supported Exploradome at the Science Center as a first step in creating new opportunities between the St. Louis-based institution and the Southeast Missouri region.

The initiative with the Science Center is part of the bank's larger interest in financial literacy programs in schools and throughout the community, Montgomery Bank CEO Troy Wilson said. Bank managers had noticed some customers having difficulty with the literacy of documents, calculation of interest and understanding percentages, he noted.

"This effort with the bank and financial literacy was really grassroots," Wilson said. "Our people said, 'Is there something we can do to take a lesson plan out to the schools -- if the schools would let us -- and to enable a better understanding so these folks can function more readily in the world, in particular, the world associated with finances?'"

The Science Center partners with science centers and other educators around the state to try to make sure all Missouri young people leave high school with the opportunity to make good choices, King said, adding that includes things like financial literacy.

"Financial literacy is nothing more than good math and applying it in a certain way. Good math is the basics of science and technology is the application of science," King said.

King said the initiative could bring exhibits to Southeast Missouri or students, teachers and parents to the Science Center or both.

About 25 educators from Southeast Missouri shared some of their ideas about using the Center during the 4 p.m. roundtable session at Sikeston Middle School and 7 p.m. session at Southeast Missouri State University.

One of the major concerns expressed by educators was the expense to take groups of students on bus trips to St. Louis. It was suggested the Science Center bring to the area a "mobile science center," show exhibits or hold science family nights at schools or civic centers.

It's so easy to think of the Science Center in terms of things, Science Center Senior Vice President Carol Valenta said. It has 100,000 objects that span over 100 years of scientific research, she said.

"They're a great resource for us to start with, but there are other kinds of things that we can share together as well," Valenta said.

For example, camp-ins are conducted at the Science Center, Valenta pointed out. The Center also has a number of mobile exhibits, such as "Van-o-

saurous," which brings dinosaur-related activities to a school, she said. Providing professional development for teachers and sharing kits and curriculums are also possibilities, she said.

"Our experience has been that the needs in every district and every school are unique to that environment," Valenta said.

Valenta is a former teacher and principal in Los Angeles Public Schools, where she ran seven science resource centers that served 800,000 kids in the school system. She's also an author of Harcourt Science textbook series -- the most popular science textbook of elementary schools in the country.

King and Valenta also toured the Sikeston Depot, which creates more potential for the Science Center and Southeast Missouri to work together, Valenta said.

In addition to bringing exhibits or visiting the Science Center, the glass case in the lobby of Montgomery Bank in Sikeston will be changed out periodically with exhibits from the Science Center's 100,000-item collection.

"This is the beginning of a partnership, listening to educators and them telling us what we can do to help make kids in this area be more successful," King said.

Valenta and King said they will take the feedback they received Monday and digest it. Then they'd like to present ideas to a representative group of teachers, and hopefully by fall, some programs will be under way, King said.

"It's not so much about teaching them (students) facts," King said. "It's about teaching them how to learn and stay interested in the world. We found what we do is lifelong learning and helping the folks who teach those kids learn how to do that."

School districts wanting to find out more about the program should contact Shannon LeGrand of Montgomery Bank at shannonlegrand@montgomerybank.com.