Despite the recent success and attention the Taos Tygers science projects have received recently, Taos Municipal Schools decided in early January not to renew a contract for science fair sponsor Laura Tenorio for the remainder of the school year.
Tenorio and the school district declined to give a specific reason for her dismissal, but one possible reason is related to a trip Tenorio took with a few award-winning science students to appear in November on the television program, "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon. District officials say Tenorio failed to get the district's permission to take the students to New York City for the show even though the group - called the NanoTygers - was not officially school sponsored and the trip was paid for privately.
District superintendent Lilian Torrez, who didn't say if the trip was a reason for Tenorio's dismissal, did say in an interview Jan. 17 that if anything had gone wrong during the trip, the district could have possibly been held accountable for the students.
After a number of years working and volunteering with the district for various science-related positions, Tenorio will no longer be overseeing the school-sponsored science fair or the many experiments going on in the middle school science lab where her Tygers were based.
Tenorio coached students in the science fields to several state and national awards during her time with the district and still has some experiments and presentation's that have dates already set. Despite her position not being renewed, Tenorio is looking toward the future and plans to help her students as long as possible with their projects.
"We are rolling forth with contacting all the kids .... and their parents to give them the choice of how they would like to continue," Tenorio said in an email. "It is the parents' decision on who the sponsor will be for their students, and trying to find resources so that kids can safely finish their experiments and get their presentation materials ready without pressures so that they can maintain control of their own experiments and destinies, including the gentlemen from NanoTygers."
The NanoTygers are a group of three students whose project may be affected by the district's decision not to renew Tenorio's position. High school students Daniel Cordova, Indigo Acosta and Cameron Gonzales recently made headlines across the state for their recent appearance on "The Tonight Show" starring Jimmy Fallon. The students presented their invention, formerly known as NanoForm, to a national audience. The Tygers created a breathable, fireproof and anti-bacterial coating to apply on fabrics with Tenorio's guidance through the project.
While Tenorio assisted students with some of their projects and travels, TMS officials say she did not have the district's permission to take the NanoTygers to New York for the filming of the Fallon segment.
During her time with TMS, Tenorio chaperoned students like the NanoTygers on trips across the country to competitions and conventions to further their experiences in the scientific fields.
For the past 10 years, Tenorio said she worked as the science fair and STEM director for Taos Middle and High Schools and would help students form 6th to 12th grade with their science projects. TMS officials said she was a "stipend volunteer" for the district for at least the past five years.
According to TMS Superintendent Lillian Torrez, students can expect things to continue as usual for the rest of the year as far as science fair and their projects go.
"Students at TMS and THS continue to work on science projects," Torrez said in an email. "Teachers at the respective schools are sponsoring the Taos District students. The science lab will continue to be dedicated to the use for science fair purposes for both THS and TMS students. There will be no change in services for the students."
Tenorio will be seeking parent permission, so the students can continue their projects outside of school and plans to help them along the way. Students who are signed up for the regional science fair in March will still be allowed to travel to Las Vegas and compete.
Tenorio is encouraging her students to stay involved with science and keep progressing with their projects. Middle School Principal Alfred Cordova said the science fair will go on as planned, and several teachers have stepped up to help the students with their projects. The district remains focused on the students' learning and will offer assistance if needed with upcoming science fair projects, which will be judged and displayed Jan. 26 and 27.
"Teachers are working really hard with students at the middle school and the high school," Cordova said. "Students will have access to anything they need for their projects. The lab is still there and it's available."
Both TMS and Tenorio are moving forward with the decision. Cordova said the well-being and learning experience of the students is the focus for Taos Middle School.