NFS presents teacher training program to legislatures

By Megan R. Harrell
STAR STAFF

  
Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. (NFS), 1205 Banner Hill Road, Erwin, is proposing a boost to the state education system. NFS President Dwight Ferguson is in Nashville today urging state legislatures to establish a training institute for science teachers. The training institute is an attempt to raise student achievement levels. Sen. Randy McNally, chairman of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee, invited Ferguson to come before the group.
   "Tennessee ranks near the bottom in per-student spending for education and in teacher pay," Ferguson said. "Yet, just throwing money at education is not the answer. We need to get out teachers excited about teaching their students the wonders of science, and a science institute can help."
   Sen. Rusty Crowe, vice-chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is interested in how the program can improve student achievement. "I'm intrigued by the enthusiasm and information Mr. Ferguson has shared with me the possibilities of a science institute and how it could make our science teachers even better at what they do," Crowe said.
   Although both Elizabethton City and Carter County Schools know little about Ferguson's efforts, they would encourage the training program he proposes. Rondald Taylor, Assistant Director of Elizabethton City Schools, stated that he would be in favor of the program if it is adopted. "We would welcome anything that they do in that regard," Taylor said.
   A science institute for teachers in South Carolina will serve as an example of how a similar one would work in Tennessee. The Science Participatory Learning, Understanding and Sharing (Science PLUS) is an institute that is available to all South Carolina public school teachers assigned to teach a science class. It is held during the summer at a mountain retreat. Teachers from across the state go through a week of intense, hands-on training. They are able to conduct in-classroom science experiments and demonstrations.
   "Tennessee must be credible in its efforts to attract science and technology-based industries and an important part of that credibility is a work force that can perform," Ferguson said. "We must do more for our science students and the best value is in an investment in better classroom instruction."
   The institute in South Carolina offers 17 different courses that cover life, earth and physical sciences The courses are correlated to various grade levels and teachers are placed in courses that cover the subject matter contained in the grade level they teach. More than 2,500 teachers have attended the institute since 1993.
   By practicing experiments at the institute, teachers become more confident in sharing them with their students. Teachers are offered the opportunity to improve their science backgrounds and gain confidence in their ability to perform experiments in front of a classroom.
   "Science is an adventure best learned by doing," Ferguson said. "The institute will result in more experiments and hands-on learning in the classroom which will mean much more than simply reading a chapter in a textbook."
   Ferguson would like for Oak Ridge to be the potential home for a science teachers institute in Tennessee. "Oak Ridge is home to one of the most advanced technology centers in the world. It could be a place where science teachers come to learn how to be better teachers," Ferguson said.
   State, federal and private funds could be used collectively to develop the program. Ferguson's appeal to lawmakers today is to form the institute.
   NFS is an uranium fuel manufacturing and processing facility that has been involved in educational issues before. Last year the Tennessee Senate recognized Ferguson and NFS for its contributions to education.