Danny Gross is a graduate student in the University of Washington’s Communications Leadership Program. He’s currently interning with Washington STEM’s Communications Team.
Last week I joined the Washington STEM team and a ton of really talented, intelligent, and thoughtful educators, administrators, and advocates to explore STEM education around the Puget Sound. We all hopped on a bus and decided that for the next 36 hours STEM education, equity, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, and career opportunities for students would stay at the forefront of our minds.
Before I dive in to this story, let me briefly tell you a little bit about myself and why you would even care to listen to what an intern might have to say about this whole Learning Tour experience.
Truthfully, I don’t have a lot of industry experience when it comes to education. And by that, I mean pretty much none. I have been tutoring students for the past three years, but that’s about it. (Not to discount tutoring. I love it; it’s the highlight of my week.) What I do know is that I care deeply about contributing in a positive way to the education system that I see so many issues with, and that’s why I’m here at Washington STEM. I want to use my skills in media technology and storytelling to contribute to the betterment of that system. I’m going to graduate school for that same reason. I see the problem, and I want to learn how to help.
Our first stop was at the Museum of Flight where we started with some group conversation and a panel discussion with business leaders and staff from the Museum of Flight discussing equity problems in education. As someone who’s wide-eyed and new to this whole experience, I was hoping to hear some breakthrough things about what’s being done to fight equity issues in education. I wanted huge, exciting things that I could sink my teeth into and feel good about putting in my own efforts. As I was listening and taking pictures, I didn’t really get any of that. We were certainly having an open and honest conversation about the subject, which is a great and necessary thing, but I wanted solutions! Big ones! Right now!
Surprise, surprise, I didn’t get them. I remember thinking to myself, “Surely the other stops will have those solutions waiting for me. Surely.”
We loaded up the bus and headed to our next stop, North Hill Elementary in Des Moines. We had about 30 minutes before we arrived so I decided to strike up a conversation with my seat mate. Lucky for me, I happened to be sitting next to Lisa Heaman, principal of West Hills STEM Academy in Bremerton. I asked Lisa what was her main take away from our shared experience at the Museum of Flight, fully expecting to have my own opinions validated through some sort of rephrasing of my own takeaway.
Lisa did not have the same take away. She told me how excited she was that the Museum of Flight had begun to take trips with staff out to rural schools so that kids and districts who couldn’t afford to travel to Seattle would still have the experience of interacting with the history and science of aeronautics. I was caught off guard at first. Sure, I remember our panel discussing that, but I had relegated that particular fact to a footnote of our morning. That didn’t qualify as an answer in my pre-existing book of big solutions for education. But I was sitting next to this really intelligent and dedicated principal with years of experience telling me how awesome and important it was. And that’s when it hit me.
I’ve got it all wrong.
It’s not about huge sweeping victories at every stop on the proverbial educational bus. Improving our education system is about looking at ALL the ways we can do better. Sure, sometimes there’s a big win, but more often than not, it’s someone willing to travel across the state to make sure kids get to learn about science and airplanes. It’s someone creating a pathway to STEM education where none had previously existed. It’s about a math student looking at themselves in the mirror and saying, “I can do this” thanks to the guidance of a mentor. And sometimes a small step I take could be a huge one for a student. It’s about the small steps we all collectively take that will equal that one big step forward.
By the time we returned to Seattle, I had seen a plethora of those small steps. There are so many amazing people dedicated to the youth of our state, all doing such phenomenal work, I can’t help but be inspired. In the ever cascading news cycle and negative statistics around education, those people are often left out of the story. But they’re there, working tirelessly for the betterment of Washington’s education system. And I, for one, want to be one of those people.