Neuroscience isn’t on many elementary school lesson plans. But this spring, a second grade class at Fairmont Neighborhood School in the South Bronx is plunging in.
Sarah Wechsler, an instructional coach with wide eyes and a marathoner’s energy, asks the students to think about the development and progress that they’ve made already in their lives.
“Your brain can get smarter. For example if you need help with your work, your brain is there in your head for you.”
After watching a video with a cartoon brain, and doing an exercise where yarn stands in for connections between neurons, they seem to have absorbed the main point of the lesson. “There is stuff in your brain that if you take on a challenge and if you stick with it, it makes your brain smarter and it makes you smarter,” says one girl.
And Wechsler makes sure they also know the day’s big vocabulary word.
“Neuroplasticity! Say it to the light! Say it to the floor! Tell it to your brain!”
The children here aren’t just learning this word for a little science enrichment. They’re learning it because their school, and the nonprofit Wechsler works with, called Turnaround for Children, are trying to put a wave of science experiments into practice. The big mission: empower children growing up in poverty with the research-based tools to transform their own developing brains. And that means, in part, giving them the understanding that brains can indeed grow, change, and heal.