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Educator Guides Girls Toward Science

A retired Norwalk teacher and school administrator is trying to get girls excited about science. "Not enough women are going into the sciences at a high level," says Cynthia Barnett .

So the 67-year-old mother of three girls is organizing a Saturday Academy on Oct. 16 that will enable middle school girls to participate in creative, hands-on science activities. The all-day event will take place at Norwalk Community College. Barnett has partnered with the Fairfield County Women's Center and is working with local science education organizations like the Maritime Center and the Discovery Museum to teach girls about anatomy, forensics, engineering and rocket science. The session is accepting 60 participants and space is still available.

Barnett points to a 2010 study by the American Association of University Women that found that women are underrepresented in many science and engineering occupations, in part because of stereotypes and cultural biases. Girls need female role models and encouragement to pursue science, says Barnett. "Part of the conference will be a panel discussion where girls can ask real women scientists about their jobs."

To spread the word about the Saturday Academy, Barnett reached out to middle school principals and guidance counselors. She has been able to pull the program together with the help of many local organizations through in-kind donations. She hopes the Academy will be more than a one-of event. "My dream is to make it monthly."

"I understand that schools can't do everything," says Barnett, who is particularly concerned about the achievement gap. The educator ran a similar Saturday program 15 years ago that focused on math and science for elementary boys and girls. "I took a break from it for the last few years, but want to re-launch it focused on older girls."

During her three-decade career in the Norwalk Public Schools, Barnett, who has a doctorate in education from Columbia University, was an elementary teacher, a guidance counselor, and a housemaster at Brien McMahon High School. "I've always liked variety," she says.

Since retiring in 2003, Barnett has become a life coach for midlife women and author of three books, including: "Stop Singing the Blues: 10 Powerful Strategies for Hitting the High Notes in Your Life."

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