Featured image: Washington STEM’s Chief Program Officer Andy Shouse helps third graders at Sherman Elementary in Tacoma create homemade tops using basic classroom materials. Image by Danny Gross. This post originally appeared on the Washington STEM blog.
I recently started an internship with the Washington STEM team, joining a group of talented educators, administrators and advocates to explore science, technology, engineering and math education around the Puget Sound. My primary duty? Help create story and build the story around the Learning Tours, which explore STEMS issues and education in organizations and schools throughout the state. The first tour was held February 18 – 19, 2016 around South Seattle and Tacoma. As we boarded the tour bus that Thursday morning, all things STEM became our focus.
Before I dive in to this story, let me briefly tell you a little bit about myself and why you would even care to listen to what an intern might have to say about this whole Learning Tour experience.
Truthfully, I don’t have a lot of industry experience when it comes to education. And by that, I mean pretty much none. I have been tutoring students for the past three years, but that’s about it. (Not to discount tutoring. I love it; it’s the highlight of my week.)
What I do know is that I care deeply about contributing in a positive way to the education system. It’s why I’m here at Washington STEM and why I want to use my skills in media technology and storytelling to contribute to the betterment of that system. I’m in the Communication Leadership program for that same reason. I see problems — with accessibility, messaging, funding and more — and I want to learn how to help.
The Museum of Flight
Our first stop was at The Museum of Flight where we started with a group conversation and a panel discussion. Business leaders and staff from The Museum of Flight discussed equity problems in education, and it was a lively discussion. As someone who’s wide-eyed and new to this whole experience, I was hoping to hear some breakthrough things about what’s being done to fight equity issues in education. I wanted huge, exciting things that I could sink my teeth into and feel good about focusing my energy toward. But as I was listening and taking pictures, I didn’t get any of that. We were certainly having an open and honest conversation about the subject, but I wanted solutions! Big ones! Right now!
Surprise, surprise — I didn’t get them. I remember thinking to myself, “Surely the other stops will have those solutions waiting for me. Surely.”
We loaded up the bus and headed to our next stop, North Hill Elementary in Des Moines, a city just south of Seattle. We had about 30 minutes before we arrived so I struck up a conversation with my seatmate. I happened to be sitting next to Lisa Heaman, principal of West Hills STEM Academy in Bremerton. I asked Lisa about her main takeaway from the discussion at The Museum of Flight, fully expecting to have my own opinions validated through some sort of rephrasing of my own takeaway. That didn’t happen.
Lisa Heaman, principal of the West Hills S.T.E.M. Academy in the Bremerton School District, gives a presentation on February 10, 2012 about how West Hills became a STEM-focused school. (From Jumping off the Cliff: S.T.E.M. Implementation PreK-8 from Maureen Majury on Vimeo)
She told me she was excited that The Museum of Flight had started taking trips with staff to rural schools so kids and districts who couldn’t afford to travel to Seattle could still interact with the history and science of aeronautics. I was caught off guard at first. Sure, I remember that being mentioned, but I relegated that fact to a footnote of our morning. It didn’t qualify as an answer in my pre-existing book of “big solutions” for education. But I was sitting next to an intelligent and dedicated principal with years of experience, telling me how awesome and important it was. And that’s when it hit me.
I’ve got it all wrong.
I realized it’s not about huge sweeping victories at every stop the proverbial education bus makes. Improvement happens when we look at all the ways we can do better. Sure, sometimes there’s a big win, but more often than not, it’s someone willing to travel across the state to make sure kids get to learn about science and airplanes. It’s someone creating a pathway to STEM education where none had previously existed. It’s about a math student looking at themselves in the mirror and saying, “I can do this” thanks to the guidance of a mentor. And sometimes a small step to me is a huge one for a student. It’s about the actions, however small, we collectively take that equal one big step forward.
By the time we returned to Seattle, I had seen a plethora of those small steps. There are so many amazing people dedicated to youth education in our state that I can’t help but be inspired. Even amidst news stories of the problems plaguing education — the lack of funding, embarrassingly low teacher pay, unequal resource access — dedicated educators are often left out of the story. But they’re there, working tirelessly to improve Washington’s education system. And I, for one, want to be one of those people.
This post originally appeared on the Washington STEM blog.