Grant supports high school neuroscience clubs

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience has announces that Lisa Bernardin, the coordinator of the Vermont Brain Bee, has received a “Small and Inspiring” grant from the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF). Through this program, VCF aims to foster the spark and hope that keeps Vermonters healthy and happy by funding and supporting projects in every town in Vermont where a small grant can make a big difference.
These funds will allow the Vermont Brain Bee to promote learning about the brain and the nervous system through the establishment of brain science or neuroscience clubs at Vermont high schools. Learning about the brain and how to keep it healthy is important for all aspects of life, including enhancing learning, discouraging drug abuse, and preventing mental illness.
Those who participate in a club also become better prepared to compete in the annual Vermont Brain Bee, a regional competition for high school students that is held at the University of Vermont in February. The winner of the Vermont Brain Bee will compete in the national Brain Bee held in Baltimore in March.
To encourage the establishment of neuroscience clubs, Bernardin gives a presentation to high school students on her experiences as a survivor of a traumatic brain injury. Her talk is followed by sessions taught by undergraduate neuroscience majors from either Middlebury College or the University of Vermont who present facts about the brain in a way that high school students can relate to their own lives. The enthusiasm of the undergraduates for neuroscience is infectious.
So far, Middlebury Union High School, Vergennes Union High School (VUHS), Burlington Technical Center and Rice Memorial High School have been involved with this work.
The pairing of college students and high schoolers has been beneficial to both groups, according to Mark Stefani, a professor of psychology at Middlebury College who is involved with the Brain Bee committee.
“The brain clubs provide the perfect environment for mutually beneficial interactions between Middlebury College students and local high school students,” he said. “Our college students get to share their knowledge and their enthusiasm for neuroscience, and in the process reinforce what they know as well as learn a great deal about teaching. It has been gratifying to see such enthusiasm for science in general, and neuroscience in particular, on the part of both groups of students.”
Mike Mazzella, who teaches anatomy at VUHS and works with the Neuroscience Club, has appreciated having Middlebury College senior Deidre Sackett, a neuroscience major, work with his students.
“It is great having Deirdre come in and be our expert for the students. It gives a different, younger voice that they can connect with and she can provide the most current and accurate information for the students to learn.”
Mazzella adds that Bernardin’s input is also enlightening to his students.
 “Having Lisa come in was a great benefit for the students to see first hand from a traumatic brain survivor’s perspective and the phenomenon of how the brain can recover,” he said. “The presentation went beyond the textbooks and lectures that I could have provided.”
The registration for the 4th Annual Vermont Regional Brain Bee, which will be held on Feb. 9, has been pushed up to Dec. 21. For more information and to register visit http://vermontbrainbee.com.
“It’s not too late to get involved,” Bernardin said.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Lisa Bernardin.

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