I grew up believing that education makes all things possible — that through education all students have an equal opportunity to learn about art, science, music, math and the world around them. My teachers taught me how to be an independent critical thinker. I learned from my mother, a teacher herself, that teachers also teach their students about working hard, being self-confident, and believing in their abilities to succeed in whatever path they choose to take. As a result, I’ve always believed education to be the great equalizer, giving me as much of an opportunity to succeed as any other student.
But things changed for me when I began to teach sixth grade in Southern California. The inequalities that I saw at the schools where I worked, juxtaposed against the bright eyes, smiling faces, and eager minds of my students made me want more for them and made me want to fight for them. Serving as a teacher of primarily low-income students of color made me realize that all educational opportunities are not equal.
Since my first year as a teacher I, like many others, have tried to figure out ways to fix the inequities. These inequalities still exist and still drive what I do every day. As I finish my 16th year at Cal State Fullerton and my first year as the dean of the College of Education, I know we have and will continue to address these issues. One way that we strive to close the opportunity gap is through the continual pursuit of a wide array of partnerships.
Together, with our community partners, we are helping to close the opportunity gap in schools.
Here are a few:
The CSUF College of Education partners with the university’s Division of Information Technology and the Placenta-Yorba Linda Unified School District to present the iSTEM program. This program brings science, engineering and technology through the use of iPads to students who would not normally have these opportunities. Since its launch, the science scores of the fifth-grade students participating have nearly doubled.
The iSTEM program also has led to the creation of a STEM Club with more than 75 district students participating, as well as 925 students in various grades spending time each week learning how to write code for computer programs.
The college’s SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union Center for Creativity and Critical Thinking, in partnership with the Sergerstrom Center for the Arts and numerous districts in Orange County, have helped to ensure the arts are offered in our county’s elementary school classrooms. To this end, we have worked with over 400 teachers and more than 400 future teachers in these areas.
Working with the Anaheim Union High School District, we provide a Summer Language Academy to newcomers. Last summer, we provided language instruction to 73 ninth- and 10th-graders. In addition, high school sophomores from across the district participated in a four-week program to assist them in succeeding in school. These students speak 12 languages from 15 different countries. During the end of the program event, students spoke of finally feeling connected at schools and believing that they would graduate from high school because not only do they have a better grasp of English, but they now have friends. This summer, the effort will be expanded to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to involve even more students.
In addition, CSUF’s Center for Autism — housed in the university’s College of Education and College of and Health and Human Development — partners with Chapman University, UC Irvine and the Family Autism Network to provide an annual social event for adults with autism and their caregivers. One parent commented that this event was the first time she had ever seen her adult son dance. The social offered a day where her son had fun in a community while she was able to network and connect with others. The free event welcomed more than 250 participants last year.
There are many more partnerships that I have not mentioned, and I know that we still have a lot of work to do, yet we are making strides together to make a difference. There have been moments throughout my journey that have made me pause, made me hesitate, made me doubt, but they have not stopped me from taking the next step because of the foundation I received in school. Through our ongoing partnerships with the Orange County community, my hope is that we will close the opportunity gap for students so that all students have an opportunity to succeed.
Lisa Kirtman became dean of Cal State Fullerton’s College of Education in 2016, having served three years as the college’s associate dean, as well as chair of the Elementary and Bilingual Education Department and acting chair of Literary and Reading Education. She taught in elementary and middle school before joining the CSUF faculty in 2000, the same year she earned her doctorate in educational policy from UC Berkeley. She also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA.
Originally published in the Orange County Register, please click here to view original posting.