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Santa Clara Unified: STEM Leadership Institute Cultivates Students’ Brains and Hearts

The Board of Trustees heard from students how the 49er’s STEM Leadership Institute nurtured their love of STEM but also their compassion for their community. Additionally, recent meetings have become a platform for community members to share their worries about the Israeli-Palestinian War.

 

Serving the Community with SLI

The STEM Leadership Institute (SLI) Program, in partnership with the SF 49ers, is held at Cabrillo Middle School and Santa Clara High School. In this program, students start in 7th grade and continue through 12th grade, and during these years students take a deep dive into science, technology, engineering, and math, aka STEM.

Sarah Rahman, SLI Director, updated the Board of Trustees on how the program is going, and its impact. Rahman and many SLI students emphasized how they give back to the local community. The students have started many projects including Service Learning and Mentoring (SLAM) which aims to increase awareness of STEM opportunities among underserved communities and hopefully inspire students to explore STEM. This initiative has been focused on Pomeroy Elementary School and Rahman hopes to encourage these students to gain an interest in STEM and apply for SLI.

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SLI students are dedicated to this rigorous program. Rahman shared that SLI students have over 300 hours of extended learning time. The students listed off what they love to do including engineering competitions where they can show off their passion projects, tinker with robotics, and more. According to Rahman, SLI students averaged more than 97 volunteer hours.

The Board was impressed by the students and their projects. Board Member Albert Gonzalez said they hope to expand this program and was happy they are already reaching out to Pomeroy. Other Board Members were concerned about the diversity of the students getting accepted and the possible barriers to applying. Rahman said they recognize the gap, especially with underserved students. She said they only started SLAM last year with the hopes of closing the gap and they have started making the application process more accessible.

Board President Vickie Fairchild was concerned about the math acceleration that seems to be built into the SLI program. She was troubled about the resources going into tutoring when so many Santa Clara Unified students are struggling with math. Rahman assured the Board that the tutoring is privately funded and that moving forward, they would follow the Math Pathways passed last year. She said accelerated math, or skipping math levels, is not a requirement for SLI.

 

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Over 30 community members spoke for almost two hours during unagendized public comment to continue the ongoing discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian War and its effect on students. Last Board meeting, Jewish community members shared concerns about the Palestinian booth at Laurelwood Elementary School’s multicultural festival.

At the Board meeting on Thursday, May 9, the pro-Isreali speakers asked the Board to keep politics out of school and to have guidelines for staff and volunteers regarding how to handle the topic of the war. The pro-Palestinian speakers asked the District to respect their freedom of speech so that they can continue to speak about their history and culture even if it is uncomfortable. Both sides had a common issue: the bullying, harassment, and discrimination that students are facing. Speakers detailed how Jewish and Arab students have felt unsafe and scared.

Because these comments were made during unagendized public comment, the Board could not respond or take action but Board Member Jodi Muirhead, who has spoken on behalf of the Jewish community, asked staff to look into their policies. Fairchild said they are already reviewing policies and are getting legal advice.*

At the beginning of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Gary Waddell spoke generally about resources and support.

“As a District, we remain committed to inclusive and welcoming school environments for all children and youth,” said Dr. Waddell. “Our teams are hard at work building on our existing commitments around equity, inclusion, welcoming and belonging, and school safety. We’ll be rolling out additional resources and support to ensure every child finds a place in SCUSD where they are valued just for who they are and can learn joyfully without fear or discrimination.

“We understand that our children and youth are navigating an increasingly complicated world and we are committed to being proactive in providing safe and supportive schools for all of them,” continued Waddell. “Some of these resources will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks and more will be developed over the summer.”

Though Dr. Waddell’s statement didn’t specifically address the war, his comments seemed relevant to the public’s concerns. We will see what resources will come about.

 

Other Business

The District is taking steps to expand eligibility for teacher housing. Santa Clara Teacher Housing Foundation (SCTHF) has modified the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws for Casa del Maestro to include classified (non-management) employees of the District. The Board approved these changes.

The Board approved and appointed Dr. Rozina Kapadia as the new Special Education Coordinator.

During unagendized public comment, several library staff members made a plea for Melissa Leman who was a library TOSA. The speakers also spoke about the benefits of her role and the importance of libraries and literacy.

The Board passed a resolution affirming June as LGBTQQIA+ Pride Month.

The Santa Clara Unified Board meets next on Thursday, May 23. Meetings are live-streamed on the District’s YouTube page, and agendas are posted on their website.

 

*Editor’s Note: This article seeks to summarize what happened at the School Board meeting but is not exhaustive. This article is not intended to properly cover the Israeli-Palestinian War, the decades-long history between Israel and Palestine, or the genocide in Gaza with the care and attention it deserves.

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1 Comment
  1. Rob 2 weeks ago
    Reply

    Parents of Jewish children talked about rising antisemitism, maintaining safe spaces for students, and keeping politics out of schools. Meanwhile on the other side of the argument, a zoom speaker–who identified herself as a Santa Clara teacher–lamented how she herself was forced to learn about “the Jews and the Holocaust” in school, said “for those who are concerned about politics, home school your children,” and ended her comments with “for parents concerned about conflicts, get your children therapy.” Parents should be horrified what teachers are allowed to say to vulnerable students, all behind the immutable shield of “free speech.”

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