Meadowdale High School grad receives Girl Scouts’ highest honor for science project

Jessica Dyck teaching.
Jessica Dyck teaching science.

A 19-year-old Meadowdale High School graduate recently received the Girl Scouts’ highest honor for her work to engage Edmonds School District fourth- and fifth-grade students in hands-on science.

Jessica Dyck was honored in June with the Girl Scout Gold Award, given to Girl Scouts who have changed their communities – and the world – in a way that has a sustainable impact.

The award recognized Dyck’s efforts to develop special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) kits for students in Bob Shepard’s class at Seaview Elementary. The kits, each containing nine activities, were formulated using Next Generation Science Standards, which are the new guidelines regarding science curriculum in the Edmonds School District.

But the impact of her work didn’t stop with Seaview Elementary. The kits can now be found in all fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms in the Edmonds School District.

Science has been a passion for Dyck since a young age. “Science has always just clicked with me,” she said. “It’s like a big puzzle that I can solve.” It’s this enthusiasm that pushed her to teach elementary school students in the way that she learned: hands-on science.

“When I can physically do science instead of studying it, I absolutely love it, ” said Dyck, who is now pursuing a double major in molecular and cellular biology – in addition to classical studies – at the University of Puget Sound. Since standardized testing starts at fourth and fifth grade, it’s important to show that science can still be “fun and mind-blowing at times,” she said. Otherwise, the test aspect of it “can deter young students and they chose to not enjoy science anymore.”.

She is also committed to breaking down both the academic and gender barriers that some students face when engaging in science studies, even though she has not personally experienced them.

“I don’t see gender barriers in these fields,” she said. “I guess in my community, the (humanities and sciences) have been balanced; both men and woman are in STEM (and also) creating beautiful pieces of art or literature.”

Dyck’s community is the Girl Scouts, which has always been more than an after-school activity, but instead her whole world. Dyck recounts that “my mom went to camp when she was pregnant with me so I guess I was a scout before I was born.” She joined troop 40812 at age 5 and developed a deep bond with the members, who are still her friends today. Girl Scouts offered Dyck “the one place where (my friends and I) could be together even if we were going to different schools or doing different activities. I loved it from the start,” she said.

Members of Jessica’s troop, which also installed a recreational equipment box at Edmonds’ Marina beach, have not only provided moral support but creative support as well.

It was her troop that pushed her to take her lifelong love of science and put it toward something that could make a resounding difference. So in her senior year at Meadowdale High School, when Dyck dove further into her passion, she realized that “people in my class still didn’t know the basics of STEM.”

The STEM kits developed by xxx.
The STEM kits developed by Dyck.

This realization was the catalyst for developing STEM kits as part of her senior project, which would win her the coveted Gold Award, which less than 6 percent of Girl Scouts receive.

The Edmonds School District’s Next Generation Science Standards focus on modeling and engineering, a standard that Dyck found challenging when making the kits. “It was hard to find things that would entertain the students and be educational,” she said, while conforming to the district’s standards. After months of devising and revising, the contents of the kits included a manual, a flash drive containing copies of printed activities, supplies for the first round of use and PrivateEye loupes (5x magnifying glass used by jewelers).

“I did my best to make each kit cheap, but with proper equipment,” Dyck said, noting that her $30 STEM kits replaced $149.95 Life Science kits that had been eliminated due to Edmonds School District budget cuts.

Though Dyck had ample help through the project, it was not without its challenges. At the pinnacle of her senior year, she found balancing this project with her workload extremely difficult. “Whether it was full AP (Advanced Placement) load, working, soccer — I was always busy. Some days I would spend eight hours straight on the project and not even touch my homework,” Dyck recalled.

After receiving the green light to implement the kits in all Edmonds School District fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, .Dyck worked closely with Dana Marsden, K-12 Science Coordinator, to get the kits approved and distributed, starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Dyck was honored for her accomplishments at a Gold Award Gala at the Tacoma Art Museum on June 7. A sophomore at University of Puget Sound, she is the Educational Chair for the UPS Chemistry Club and is working to spread STEM knowledge in the Tacoma.

Though she is now focusing more on her education and career, Dyck continues to support and promote the importance of a science education. She urges students to not be discouraged by gender stigmas, academic limitations or lack of progress. “Don’t put yourself down because the girl next to you got 100 percent on her chemistry test and didn’t study, while you spent hours studying and got a lower score,” she said. “Try new things, find your passion whether its biology or engineering, math or computer science. Just find where things make the most sense and enjoy it every day.”

— By Miranda Gillis

Miranda Gillis is a 2015 Meadowdale High School graduate

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