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Volunteer Spotlight: Q&A with Dr. A

 

Dr A with First Grade

First graders from Taylor Elementary meet for a weekly Q&A with Dr. A lunch bunch session in September. Dr. A has met with groups of students each week for science-focused lunch conversations for the past 12 years.Photo by Allison Owens

 

Whoever said that volunteering isn’t rocket science, hasn’t been to Taylor Elementary to have lunch with Dr. Morris L. Aizenman, or as he is more affectionately known, Dr. A.

For the past 12 years, Dr. A has been a common fixture at Taylor; as a regular volunteer and occasional substitute teacher, he leads the “Q&A with Dr. A” lunch bunch three days a week, gathering three different groups of students grades K through 5 each day. Students bring their lunch and meet with others from their grade level to talk about science. Teachers from each class and grade decide which students will be a part of the week’s lunch bunch – and he meets up with as many as 50 students per week at these informal Q & A sessions.

Students can ask him any question they want about science. While questions are mostly about space and dinosaurs, Aizenman says topics have ranged over all fields of science, from astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. And depending on the question, it may result in discussions amongst all of the session’s participants.

Sometimes the students can even surprise this astrophysicist. Once a second grader told him that he hoped he could ask a question to which he did not know the answer so that “we both can learn.”

Aizenman has a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics and spent his career researching the evolution and stability of stars at the National Science Foundation. There he served in various roles including Program Director of the various fields of astronomical research. Prior to his retirement in 2012, he served as Senior Scientist for the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

He found the volunteer opportunity at Taylor 12 years ago through a program conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science placing retirees from the math, science and engineering communities in schools in the DC metro area.

One of the best parts of volunteering for so many years at Taylor, says Aizenman, is the opportunity to get to know the children in all of the grades and see them as they grow and move from grade to grade with the passing of time. As a result, he said “I find myself being welcomed back by the children I’ve met with in earlier years, with the question ‘will you be doing Q&A lunch bunch this year and when does it start?’

And like a pebble dropped in a pond of water, the ripple effects of the Q&A sessions sometimes go beyond lunchtime. Aizenman said that he heard from a parent that as a result of the lunch Q&A session, the conversation at their dinner table had changed. Another parent told him that their daughter had come home with the announcement that because of her meeting with Dr. A. in a lunch bunch session, she had decided to become a scientist.

 

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