Opening the Gateway of Access and Opportunity through Science in the Bayview Zone, San Francisco

Joanna Totino, FOSS Elementary Specialist
March 03, 2014 | FOSS Partnerships

The Bayview Zone of San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) consists of seven schools that include approximately 1,800 pre-K–12 students—schools that serve the highest concentrations of African-American students in the district. Emmanuel Stewart was a former teacher in one of those schools; he presently works as the Science Literacy Instructional Program Administrator in the Bayview Zone.

As a fifth-grade elementary school teacher, he worked hard to find avenues to teach science, as teaching science was not necessarily a given at all schools. One unintended consequence of the No Child Left Behind era was an overemphasis on the subject areas of language arts and math, sometimes to the exclusion of other critical areas. Among these "other areas" was science.

As a teacher, Emmanuel participated in a district sponsored science program called WISE, Working to Improve Science Education, funded by a Math Science Partnership Grant. Through WISE, SFUSD teachers benefitted from lesson planning support and in-class coaching. Emmanuel credits his participation in this program, specifically the support he received from his WISE coach, for enhancing his science content knowledge and quality of instruction. Participating in the program helped him create engaging, inquiry-based learning experiences for his students. However, it wasn't until he stepped out of the classroom and into multiple other schools as a science coach, assessing the state of science teaching and learning in the Bayview schools, that Emmanuel realized that not all teachers benefitted from the same access to ongoing professional development and support for science instruction that he had experienced.

Bayview schools have been subject to multiple reform efforts over the years, all of them with the goal of improving student learning outcomes as measured by high stakes tests in language arts and math. This pressure, coupled with relatively high rates of staff turnover year after year and diminishing resources for schools, helps explain why science dropped off the radar. Dropping off the radar meant that implementation of the district's adopted science program, FOSS, was disorganized and incomplete. There was no system for refurbishing kits to ensure teachers had access to the necessary materials to run investigations in their classrooms. In some cases, FOSS kits were completely missing. New teachers didn't have opportunities to learn about FOSS. And there wasn't dedicated time—in the instructional day or in teacher planning time—for science.

Emmanuel knew all of these barriers had to be addressed if Bayview students were to have regular opportunities for rich science learning. He asserts, "After all, science is one of the subjects that is a gatekeeper to more advanced learning, and we all—regardless of culture, race, social class, gender, religious belief or any other difference—have a natural affinity and ability for science learning."

Emmanuel's early visits to schools and classrooms informed his plan for increasing science-learning opportunities for all students in the Bayview. Emmanuel worked the first few years at building partnerships and relationships with teachers, students, principals, and science partners within the district and city. He worked to provide leadership and direction for serving the Bayview community in the development of science. He has strengthened relationships with district and city science partners and supported teachers and principals with their development of science through using FOSS.

Emmanuel claims that what teachers mostly needed were the materials and resources to teach science. So, he worked with schools to refurbish their FOSS kits and supplied teachers with science notebooks. Emmanuel was also able to facilitate and connect teachers in Bayview to science partners and organizations in other parts of the city. For example, some Bayview teachers are now partnered with a local science museum, California Academy of Sciences, and are participating in the Academy's Teacher Institute on Science Sustainability (TISS). This partnership offers additional professional development, coaching, and materials for science instruction for teachers over two years. Other Bayview teachers are connected with UCSF's (University of California, San Francisco) City Science program that provides professional development around the FOSS science program. Bayview has also begun to develop partnerships with the Mission Science Workshop in San Francisco. The Workshop helps teachers understand science standards and provides specific support for the exploration portion of science instruction. All of these types of partnerships with local science organizations provide additional professional development, coaching, and materials for science instruction.

Additionally, some Bayview teachers needed a model of what teaching FOSS "looks like." They had never seen, let alone used, FOSS materials. For these teachers, Emmanuel's strategy as a coach was to co-plan, then model and co-teach lessons. In this way, teachers would become familiar with the learning goals and instructional materials and have a partner to try things out with. It was through these co-teaching experiences that his rise to science celebrity among the 5-11 year-old set in the Bayview began.

In our conversation, Emmanuel quickly moves the focus from his "celebrity status" to the sincere and spontaneous expressions of excitement and gratitude that come from students simply for being engaged in science inquiry and learning. He emphasizes, "To have these students, the very ones who are overrepresented for special education and discipline, and underrepresented for AP [Advanced Placement] and UC [University of California] admission—yes, I am talking specifically about African-American boys—to have them be this excited about school and about learning, this is what I want to replicate across the Bayview. And science is the natural vehicle."

Recently, with the support of SFUSD's Curriculum and Instruction Department, the Bayview leadership team conducted a listening campaign of Bayview teachers and leaders to help better understand their experiences, perceptions, and goals around science teaching and learning. The teachers' voices consistently expressed the desire to have more science happening in schools but of being stymied by various barriers.

Emmanuel reaffirms students' learning by validating their thinking.

Emmanuel reaffirms students' learning by validating their thinking.

These voices provided direction for the Bayview Zone to remove the barriers and offer the support to allow more exciting science learning to take place in their schools. The first step the Bayview leadership team took was to clearly establish the expectation that all students would receive their full grade level curriculum in science. Guidelines for science instructional minutes have been shared with sites to assist them in creating schedules that include science. Next, Emmanuel worked to ensure that teachers had all necessary materials to use for their adopted FOSS science program. This meant helping sites inventory what they had on-site and identify what was missing. It also meant purchasing science notebooks for every student.

In considering professional development, the Bayview leadership team considered three audiences: teachers, school and district leaders, and families. The team focused on increasing enthusiasm for science by engaging in the practices of science, deepening science content knowledge, and connecting people to science resources and partners.

The Bayview leadership team conducted a professional development meeting where district leaders were given a guided tour through the FOSS Teacher Guides and other science support materials. Emmanuel shares, "The site administrators worked in pairs, poring through the science materials, excitedly mapping out units, making connections to literacy and math units currently being planned and taught by their teachers, and begging for two more minutes to just finish this one part. Leaders left this meeting committed to allocating the necessary time and support to teachers for science instruction at their sites."

Historically, Bayview schools have not participated in regularly sponsored Family Nights at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco, while other schools in the district have participated in these events year after year. But in 2012, Bayview schools participated for the first time. From having no Bayview participation, the numbers jumped to over 900 Bayview students and families attending in spring of 2012, many of whom had never visited the California Academy of Science before that night. Emmanuel saw the wonder on all the students' faces as they wandered through the museum, eagerly pointing to exhibits that were catching their attention, touching and trying things out. He says, "Science learning is truly accessible to all; it's a natural hook to engage our students to more advanced levels of learning throughout their lives."

For Emmanuel Stewart, being a science leader and coach in San Francisco is very personal. He shares that his philosophy in teaching was implanted in his soul by his grandmother many years ago, as a small child. Emmanuel recounts,

In my earliest years, it was my grandmother who took my brother, sister, and me to Golden Gate Park and to the science academy during the summer months. She would walk us through the park and teach us life lessons from our questions. We would ask our grandmother, "Why are the trees so tall? Who planted those trees? Is the Sun close? Where does the Moon go during the day?" My grandmother didn't always provide an answer to our questions, but she always responded. She responded through her relationship with us and her hands-on approach. She would tell us to respect God's earth and don't pick the leaves from the trees. She would also say, "Only pick up leaves from the ground that fall from the trees. These trees provide clean air for all of us!"

It is Emmanuel's grandmother's values and beliefs that he takes with him into every science class and every science lesson. He challenges students to do their best and be confident, stand tall and strong, and question the world around them, just as he did as a small child. He passionately states,

Science learning captures the imagination and curiosity for students and develops a number of transferable skills including literacy, communication, teamwork, problem solving, and analytical thinking. [For these reasons,] I continue to remove the barriers and provide the supports for more science teaching and learning in our schools. And while students don't need a science rap to know that learning about science is fun, and I don't need to be treated like a celebrity after teaching a science lesson to know that students love science, all of this access and support is about spreading the love and joy of science in the Bayview.