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We Get by with a Little Help from Our Friends: Refurbishment in LAUSD

Jacquelyn Herst, Elementary Science Specialist and FOSS Consultant, Los Angeles, California
September 18, 2015 | Materials Management

"We have a lot of old FOSS modules in our storeroom that aren't being used. Can you help us decide what to do with them?" This was the question the elementary science central office team kept receiving. At the same time, many schools were indicating a need for refurbishing their current equipment. After seven years of heavy use, many permanent items needed to be replaced. With limited resources in money, personnel, and time, we had a problem in need of a creative solution.

To understand the problem, some background information is necessary. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been using the FOSS program for over 20 years. In addition to formally adopting the FOSS California Edition in 2007, individual schools had purchased modules from earlier editions, going as far back as 1992. Additional grants and Title One funds also provided schools with modules from the FOSS Second Edition. As teachers retired or changed locations, and as enrollment fluctuated, unused modules began accumulating in closets, bins, and storerooms.

As part of the district's efforts to "go green," throwing away equipment seemed both environmentally and fiscally foolish. With all these materials as resources, it seemed natural to try and "harvest" the old FOSS modules to refurbish the current ones. The question was how. LAUSD is a huge district with over 500 elementary schools spread out over a 30-mile radius. Currently there are no science lead teachers at schools to oversee module maintenance. Six district science specialists and a team of four science technicians serve as the central science leadership team. Although this team was ready and eager to help, other responsibilities took priority.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to repurpose all those FOSS materials was too tempting to ignore. One of the first considerations was how to collect the old FOSS equipment. The central leadership team developed a FOSS inventory list that was sent to schools that had asked for module refurbishment. This list included both current and old modules. Principals were asked to consult with their teachers to determine which modules should be refurbished and returned to the school and which could be donated for repurposing. Over the summer the science technicians picked up over 2,000 boxes from 43 schools. Some schools sent over 150 boxes, both current and old. The Science Materials Center was overflowing with palettes of FOSS boxes.

Now that the boxes had been picked up, the challenge was how to sort the components from old modules and, at the same time, refurbish and return current ones to the schools. Working dilligently, we were able to get many modules refurbished and back to the schools, but we still had hundreds of old modules left to work on, containing a great deal of FOSS equipment inventory. These boxes were stored randomly with no one knowing what they contained.

The school year began, and we had just begun to make progress with the refurbishment. After a few brainstorming sessions, phone calls, meetings, email exchanges, more meetings, faxes, and final approvals, we had a solution that turned out to be workable, efficient, rewarding, fun, and beneficial, not only for our central team but for a crew of young adults in the community. Our local Delta Education Sales Manager, Maggie Ostler, connected us with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As you may know, they have a well-regarded program in which college students serve two-year missions, during which they make themselves available for various types of community service. This was just what we needed; 20 strong, eager young men and women to help us organize all the FOSS materials.

On a perfect cool spring day the missionaries descended on our storage buildings. For eight straight hours they lifted, sorted, and marked boxes. Modules were arranged on palettes by title and grade level. Current modules were separated from retired ones.

Thanks to their efforts, our old modules were processed and labeled. Then the question was how to organize everything so that we could use the materials to refurbish active modules. The answer came in a mutually beneficial relationship with the Miller Career and Transition Center. Located near the materials center, the Miller Center provides employment-based training for students with disabilities, aged 18–22. The teachers at Miller realized that sorting these materials would be a solid employment-based learning opportunity for their students. So a partnership developed.

For the whole school year, every day for one hour, 10–15 students would arrive at the materials center and sort the items in retired FOSS modules. Their work was so efficient that the center staff was hard pressed to keep them supplied with boxes to sort. At the end of the school year their hard work was celebrated with personal recognition.

Because of their exemplary work, there is talk of expanding the Miller Center students' work to assist with refurbishment of current FOSS modules. Knowing that there are partners in the community that we can call on helps us to keep a quality science program going even with limited resources.

Top of page: Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints help organize FOSS materials for LAUSD.