Science in the afternoon - UNE and LearningWorks partner for afterschool enrichment

October 31, 2013

A successful program that pairs University of New England graduate fellows with area K-12 students enters its fifth year with a new partnership with LearningWorks in Portland and Biddeford.


UNE’s Systemic PARTnership Aimed at Connecting University and School (SPARTACUS) program is funded through a National Science Foundation GK12 grant, and uses the settings of the Saco River and greater Gulf of Maine watershed, as well as UNE’s Saco River Coastal Observing System (SaRCOS), to enable graduate fellows to share their roles as scientific investigators with the K-12 students.

The program is entering its fifth and final year, and has reached 2,500 K-12 students in Maine and involved 22 UNE graduate students in marine and biological sciences.

Expanded Program

This year’s program of 12 UNE graduate students is expanding to include undergraduate student volunteers. 

Henrietta List, UNE SPARTACUS program manager, says, “As we entered our fifth year, we explored different types of programs that could have a broader impact. We found that engaging UNE undergraduate students with after-school science enrichment programs would provide valuable additional support in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) content for kids.”

List worked with the project’s principal investigators—Education Professor Susan Hillman, Marine Science Professor Stephan Zeeman, and Associate Dean Charles Tilburg, as well as Marine Science Instructor Leah Bymers—to coordinate the undergraduate outreach programs at LearningWorks, which provides learning programs in Southern Maine for at-risk youth, the immigrant community, and low-income families. 


LearningWorks Afterschool in Portland and Biddeford is a 21st Century Community Learning Center funded program aimed at serving underperforming elementary students in selected schools in Portland and Biddeford through STEM-based enrichment programming.

The UNE undergrads will be trained by a UNE SPARTACUS graduate fellow and provide additional support for science clubs and other science enrichment programs at the LearningWorks Afterschool sites.  

The elementary schools sites participating include Reiche Community School, East End Community School, Presumpscot School, and Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Portland, and Biddeford Primary School and Biddeford Intermediate School.

LearningWorks chief executive officer Ethan Strimling says, “We are extremely pleased to be working with the University of New England.  It is collaborations such as this that allow us to continue to do the great work we do with the children of Portland and Biddeford.”

Graduate fellows will also continue their successful SPARTACUS outreach into seven area schools: Lincoln Middle School, Loranger Middle School, Biddeford High School, Bonny Eagle High School, Buxton Center Elementary School, Massabesic Middle School and Falmouth High School.  

The fellows will work with students and teachers to examine the interrelationships of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and geology in the local watershed. 

The relationship between the UNE graduate fellows, undergraduate volunteers, host schools and students provides mutual benefits for all. The UNE fellows and students gain valuable communications skills, team-building and civic experience, the schools benefit from teacher development, and the K-12 students acquire scientific and technical literacy.

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