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Science students hope Bush means it

By Martiga Lohn

Associated Press

BURNSVILLE, Minn. -- After Hurricane Katrina hit, Leslie Sink looked long at pictures of the devastation. Sink, a teenager with a special interest in biology, wondered how much damage all that oily water would do to future plant life.

So she turned her question into an honors biology project using white beans, plastic cups, motor oil and lots of water. She ran into some snags -- including a control set of beans that never sprouted -- but they didn't dampen her enthusiasm.

"I love this class a lot," said Sink, a junior at Burnsville Senior High School who wants to study science in college and possibly become a horticulturist. "I've always liked science."

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Science students and teachers perked up their ears Tuesday night when President Bush announced a major initiative to improve science and math education in the nation's public schools. But Sink and her biology teacher, Jennifer Hugstad-Vaa, say it's going to take more than words to fix the problems they face at their suburban Twin Cities school.

Classes are too big. Textbooks are too old -- or missing. There's not enough money for materials used in experiments. There aren't enough subjects to satisfy the most adventurous learners. A curriculum overhaul forced fast-track juniors to repeat last year's math class with another, slower group.

"All our classes are way full, and it's hard for our teacher to give us individual attention," said Sink, who says her science books have always been vintage -- from the 1990s or even the 1980s. "I'd like to see things actually change."

Bush plans to visit 3M Co. in Maplewood today to talk about proposals to strengthen U.S. science, including the schools push. His $380 million schools plan includes training 70,000 teachers to teach advanced math and science to low-income students, and drawing 30,000 mathematicians and scientists into teaching as a sideline.

Hugstad-Vaa said she's skeptical Bush's initiative will help her students.

"It only helps if there's funding," she said. "Words mean nothing without the funding."

Sink's classmates questioned whether Bush's initiative will trickle down to them.

"It sounded nice, what he was trying to say, but we're just wondering if it's going to happen," said Nic Valley, 17, of Savage.

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"Bush hasn't done as many of the things as he's said, especially for the schools," said Nathan Schnipkoweit, also 17.

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