Gift From Malaysia Helps Palolo Students Grow In The Sciences

The generosity of the Malaysian first lady and the U.S. Navy will be on full display Friday as Palolo Elementary School students present their STEM projects that the donations made possible.

Each grade chose an environmental issue to study via STEM, which is a national effort to advance understanding and involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The kindergarten students chose rain forests, first-graders pollution, second-graders recycling, third-graders sustainability, fourth-graders aquaponics and fifth-graders alternative energy.

Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, presented $10,000 to the school in November during the APEC summit, and principal Ruth Silberstein said the hands-on experience it supported has been invaluable.

“You can see it in their faces,” she said. “They are so proud to show off what they learned. They grew a two-pound sweet potato in our after-school science program and were so proud of it because it’s something they can take home and help feed their family.”

Such lessons about food may be lost on some youngsters, but for the majority at the school, the issues are real. Silberstein says 58 percent of them are immigrants, and 97 percent live in poverty. Such challenges were a key reason Malaysia’s first lady chose to visit the school.

“What a gracious woman,” said Silberstein, who was a finalist in the 2012 Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Awards. “She is an advocate for the poor, especially the young children. We never expected anything, just having her come was a great gift itself. So when she said she had a gift for us it, caught us off guard. When I found out it was money, that it was $10,000 – I was stunned. We were all overwhelmed.”

At the onset of No Child Left Behind in 2001, she added, the school had the lowest test scores in the state. But with changes in curriculum, and parent and community support, the small school with a poor population and low test scores is making a comeback. According to the 2004-2005 School Status and Improvement Report, only 47 percent of fifth-graders were reading at an appropriate level and 71 percent were adequate in math. By 2011, those numbers jumped to 85 percent in reading and 89 percent in math – above the national average.