Fifth grade teacher Shaundra Miller.
By Post Staff
As educators across the country are responding to the call to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in K-12 classrooms, one local teacher is making extra efforts to make sure her students receive the best in science education.
Fifth grade teacher Shaundra Miller, who was raised and educated in Richmond and now teaches at Wilson Elementary School, specializes in informing – and frequently amazing – her 10 and 11 year olds with hands-on activities that illustrate such basic science as the sun and solar system, causes of weather, our built water systems and the physiology of plants and other living things.
Science, Miller says, is more than memorizing the periodic table of elements or facts from a textbook. The subject can better prepare students for a future beyond the classroom by engaging them in lessons that inform them about their world, stimulate critical thinking and inspire a love of learning.
“It’s amazing how you can integrate the language arts and real-world knowledge through science instruction,” Miller said. “Kids love it too – things that seem simple to us astound and wow them.”
School districts across the country – including the West Contra Costa County Unified School District (WCCUSD) – are focusing on STEM education for today’s students in order to better prepare them for the growing number of well-paid jobs in STEM fields.
According to the US Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics, STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent in the next six years, with STEM workers earning 26 percent more than the non-STEM workforce.
With the goal of increasing academic performance and enabling Richmond youth to be college and career ready, the For Richmond coalition is working to expand STEM programs in local schools and organize educational opportunities throughout the year.
WCCUSD Board President Madeline Kronenberg said students need a steady diet of science and math if they’re going to be ready for the world beyond their classrooms.
Kronenberg is also education chair for For Richmond, a new community service organization in Richmond. She said For Richmond is helping give students in Richmond more access to educational and engaging science and math-based activities.
Later this month, Richmond students are in for another intergalactic treat when For Richmond sponsors the Traveling Space Museum’s “Space Day” of fun to DeJean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald, on Friday, May 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To learn more about Space Day, visit 4richmond.org.
In addition to activities for kids, Miller said it is important that teachers also receive the extra instruction they need to feel confident to lead a robust science curriculum. Teaching science can often be daunting for those who did not benefit from a strong science education.
“Many teachers don’t actually know much about science, and they need to feel empowered before they can teach,” she said. “It wasn’t until I had the training that I was able to try it.”
Miller was driven to become a science-oriented elementary school teacher because of her own lack of it growing up in Richmond, where science instruction was often relegated to a textbook.
After completing her teaching credential in Cal-State Hayward/District Partnership Program, she sought out additional science teaching instruction and even won a Teach for America science fellowship, which allowed her to take workshops equipping her with the tools needed to lead science lessons and hands-on instruction.
She now revels in walking her students through experiments that illustrate scientific principles, providing them with a strong science foundation at an early age. She hopes more emphasis will be placed at the elementary level to prepare students for higher levels of learning – especially in science and math.
“That’s why I became a fifth grade teacher,” she said, “to help my students feel prepared for the world beyond.”