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Mission teachers named STEM fellows

June 5, 2015
Christina Gray

If St. Peter School mathematics teacher Lawrence Hargarten has his way, in the not-too-distant future, Latinos will be leading the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“I want to dispel the notion that Latinos don’t do math,” the middle school teacher told Catholic San Francisco on May 27 after a lively probability classroom exercise that produced more whoops and high-fives than the basketball game on the court outside. In question were the odds the class would not receive homework that night.

“A lot of the kids think that they can’t do math,” Hargarten said. But they can and they do, he said.

Hargarten is one of three middle school math and science teachers from archdiocesan schools chosen to spend two weeks over the next three summers at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as Trustey Family STEM Teaching Fellows.

The university runs the Center for STEM Education and has designed the fully-funded fellows program to help support Catholic school educators improve student learning in STEM areas. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

St. Peter middle school science teacher Ryan Suarez and St. James School technology teacher Albert Bricker were also chosen from among a national pool of Catholic school applicants according to vice principal Karen Hammen. She said the schools, both located in the Mission District of San Francisco, share similar demographics and the three fellows will partner in the creation of a school-wide STEM Impact Plan to span all grade levels at both schools.

Eighty percent of the students who attend St. Peter School in San Francisco’s Mission District come from low-income homes and 95 percent come from Hispanic families. Partnering school St. James has the same school family demographic.

“I’m trying to build human capital,” said Suarez, who, like Hargarten, is ending his first teaching year at St. Peter. Fifteen minutes earlier, the school playground came to a standstill and watched as his students dropped eggs cloaked in handmade parachutes and carefully designed protective shells from a landing several stories up. All eggs arrived intact.

Hammen said the STEM Teaching Fellows program will not only help math, science and technology teachers increase their knowledge and understanding of their own field, but integrate STEM disciplines in class assignments.

She pointed to the egg-drop project as an example of STEM teaching: students must engineer a device to protect their egg, use math to calculate the velocity of the egg based on its weight, use science to understand the forces involved, and use technology to graph their experiment.

Asked why she believed the teachers were chosen in the rigorous application process she said all three are tremendous educators and exceptionally committed to improving their instruction so they can support their students.

“They are also really committed to our student demographic,” she said. “Our plan next year is to have these teachers be part of a professional learning community with members of the staff from the elementary grades so we can look at how we can strengthen our program at all grade levels.”

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