Fillmore Central fifth grade teacher Angie Kennedy first got the idea for her take-home science backpacks when her own children were in preschool. The kids were able to check out a backpack that had a book and small activity in it to take home once a week, which they really enjoyed. “And I thought, why can’t I increase the educational value all the way up to fifth grade?” Kennedy said. At the time, she was teaching fifth grade at a different school. Taking a cue from the preschool backpacks, she designed and organized around 50 backpacks for her students to check out and take home on Fridays. Each backpack held materials for a science experiment along with other resources. They were a huge hit. “The kids checked them out on a very regular basis,” she explained. “It was just a huge success.”
Kennedy was hired as a sixth grade teacher at Fillmore Central last year, but is moving to fifth grade for the 2019-20 school year. Although this is only her second year teaching at Fillmore Central, she has been a teacher for 20 years. When she heard that she was being moved to a fifth grade classroom, she knew that she had to bring her unique program to the students. She met with the other fifth grade teacher, Sarah O’Connell, who was excited to be a part of it as well. “I thought it was really cool,” O’Connell said. She anticipates that the fifth grade students in both her classroom and Kennedy’s will enjoy the program. “I think they’re really going to be excited,” she said.
The first step in the process was to raise enough money to purchase the backpacks and supplies. Kennedy spent a lot of time writing grants, making presentations at various organizations, and researching opportunities and was able to raise $11,000 thanks to the Harmony Area Community Foundation, Preston Area Community Foundation, Preston and Harmony Fire Departments, Walmart Rochester #2812, Harmony and Preston Lions Clubs, First Southeast Bank, First State Bank, and F&M Bank. “We have enough funding that we will be able to continue this at least a couple of years before we’ll have to ask for additional funding,” Kennedy stated.
Thanks to the funding, Kennedy was able to design over 70 science experiment backpacks for students to take home over the weekends. The experiments include things such as forensic kits, bridge building, robotics, owl pellets, frog dissection, a telescope, etc. Each kit also includes a book that gives more information and details on the experiment along with other resource materials. When Kennedy did the program at her other school, she was only able to put together 50 backpacks, and they were all non-consumable, meaning that all of the materials had to be returned together. This time however, she was able to increase the number of backpacks to over 70, some of which will be consumable so that the student will have a product that they can keep.
With the help of their friends and family, Kennedy and O’Connell have been working hard this summer to collect the materials needed and assemble the backpacks. “I didn’t realize quite how big it was going to be,” O’ Connell laughed. While it has been an overwhelming process to put the backpacks together, it won’t be as difficult and time-consuming next year since the backpacks will already be assembled. The project is currently about 75% done, and they are just waiting for some more supplies to arrive before finalizing the backpacks.
Starting in October, students will be welcome to check out a different backpack each Friday at no cost. The program is optional, and students can participate as often or as little as they would like. There will be some rules such as a waiver being signed by parents at the beginning of the school year and an expectation that students will return the backpacks on Mondays or risk not being allowed to check another one out that week. The kids’ families are encouraged to do the experiments with their fifth grader. “I was amazed at the amount of parents who said this was awesome,” Kennedy said about the program at her previous school.
When Kennedy put together the science experiments, she made sure that they were all age appropriate to a fifth/sixth grade level. The sixth grade class will also be able to participate in the program by volunteering to restock and check backpacks which will earn them tickets to check them out themselves. Kennedy feels that the experiments can spark interests in kids that they may not have realized before. “It might not be high enough science for the high school, but it’s definitely food for thought for their future in high school,” she explained.
If other teachers are interested in putting together a similar program at their school, they can contact Angie Kennedy at Fillmore Central for more information.