When the new Good Shepherd School on Leestown Road opens this fall, Sherrill Elam will have more than double the space to teach science to her 50 or so middle schoolers.
The veteran teacher will move into a fully stocked 1,600 square-foot science lab donated by Alltech, the Nicholasville-based animal nutrition company.
Elam taught science for 40 years, spending most of her career at Elkhorn Middle School before retiring and joining the Good Shepherd staff five years ago.
She called the lab a “science teacher dream come true,” and said it would create opportunities to teach chemistry, robotics and gardening.
“I’m excited and just amazed at how generous a gift and what long-reaching effects a gift like this can have,” she said.
“When you think about children and what they learn, and how they build on that and use it for years in their careers and their lives, it has far-reaching effects to give a gift like this.”
Elam says the lab could spark new interests in her middle school students and inspire them to pursue careers in science.
“I think it is the most important age – some research says that by seventh grade, people kind of decide who they’re going to be,” she said.
“I’ve had some students come back and tell me they majored in science because of something we did in seventh grade.”
School leaders hope to move into the new building by fall break.
Principal Stephanie Sims, who is stepping down at the end of June to return to the classroom, said the science lab and a cash donation are worth about $250,000.
That includes furniture, cabinetry, state-of-the-art lab equipment, a projection system and a huge aquarium, Sims said. The lab will more than double the space for middle school science instruction.
“It really opens it up to have the kinds of things we need to do experiential science – real hands-on learning activities,” Sims said.
“They (Alltech) want to get our kids here interested in science and doing well in science and spark that so that we are producing scientists.”
The $15,000 cash donation can be used for any item the teacher needs for the classroom.
Alltech will also offer professional development to teachers at Good Shepherd and send scientists to the classroom to work directly with students, she said.
“We just are so super excited about it, and to be honest, I just don’t think there’s anything like it at all in Franklin County,” Sims said.
Sims said one end of the science lab would look like a traditional classroom, with desks and a lecture area. The other side would include sinks, lab stations, a refrigerator and other equipment for hands-on activities.
There will also be a rooftop patio where kids can grow a garden or do other outdoor activities.
Deirdre Lyons, wife of Alltech founder Pearse Lyons, said there are two reasons the company builds science labs like Good Shepherd’s in Kentucky’s Catholic schools.
First, the company depends on science education to build its future workforce. Lyons said researchers from around the world come to Alltech’s Nicholasville headquarters to work, but few North American students are interested in the field.
Second, Pearse Lyons’ brother was a priest whose last mission was to teach math and science to inner-city youth in London.
“He really wanted to have a good science lab to teach them, and we were about to do that for him when he died suddenly,” said Lyons, who serves as the company’s director of corporate image and project management.
They have since built science labs at Catholic schools around Kentucky and England, and Lyons said the company plans to expand to Eastern Kentucky soon. Good Shepherd’s is the 10th lab in Kentucky.
She said the next two labs will go to schools that aren’t Catholic, but she declined to provide other details.
“We wanted to encourage middle school children to be interested in science – high school is almost too late,” she said.
“We must start getting children interested in science at a young age, when their developmental stage is ripe for learning.”