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Pitsco Missions lab earns 2017 Golden Bell Award

Caring is the key; lab manager in Nuevo, CA, says ‘it’s for the kids’

Published December 22, 2017

NUEVO, CA – Award-winning educators care about their students – and every other aspect of their job – because that’s what it takes to make a positive difference in education. Case in point: the Pitsco Education Missions lab at Valley View Elementary School in Nuevo, CA, which has been named a 2017 Golden Bell recipient as a “Solid Gold STEM Lab.”

The caring classroom teachers at Valley View Elementary regularly bring their students into the engaging hands-on Pitsco science lab where career exploration comes to life. And the activities even include life in the form of many creatures found throughout the Animals, Ecology, Bug World, and Undersea Adventure Missions.

Keeping the lab – and creatures – thriving requires passion and attention to detail. That’s where Lab Manager Elisabeth Fair comes into play. Though she is quick to credit the classroom teachers and her principal for the lab’s success, she is the constant, the one who oversees the materials and the creatures, thereby giving students a riveting, real-life experience they won’t find anywhere else in their school day.

“My principal is wonderful,” Fair said. “She’s like, ‘Whatever works.’ I’m really blessed in that she’s a super big supporter of the lab.”

For example, in order to better prepare fifth graders for their state science test, Fair suggested rotating them through a specific series of Missions that line up best with the standards tested, and her principal and the classroom teachers were fully supportive.

That high level of trust in a Missions lab manager is essential to achieve success that culminates in a California Golden Bell honor. The California School Boards Association sponsors the Golden Bell Awards program, which “promotes excellence in education and school board governance by recognizing outstanding programs and governance practices of school boards in school districts and county offices of education throughout California.”

Even though the Missions lab at Valley View Elementary is geared toward students in Grades 3-6, children in K-2 also are invited to watch and learn about mealworms, fish, tadpoles, lizards, and pillbugs/sowbugs.

“I just love everyone coming in, so I’ve had kindergarten come in, second grade even, and we talk about the animals,” said Fair, who is in her third year facilitating the Pitsco Missions lab. “Last year, I had the second graders come in so the kids could check it out before the end of the school year because they were coming in the following year, so I wanted them to get a little taste of what they could expect from a STEM lab.”

Everything that Fair and the classroom teachers do at Valley View is for one reason. “It’s for the kids – the excitement they get watching these animals grow,” Fair said. “For those who struggle with the reading and the writing, they have something they can come in and connect with, and even if they don’t understand Earth and space, they can go home and talk about the tadpoles and how they’re developing.”

“It [the Missions program] was not prepackaged, it was customized to our needs. I don’t know another vendor that compares to this level of customization and professionalism.”

– Sharrah Pharr, PhD, director of federal programs and grants, Hays CISD, Kyle, Texas

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