A story from Ms. Licata’s Southern California LPS classroom
Why do I participate in LPS? Well, the obvious answer is to expose my students to a diverse group of STEM professionals. My school is a Title 1 school that has 100% free and reduced lunch, meaning it’s located in a lower-income area. I want my students to learn about STEM professions, some of which they may never have heard of, from professionals in these fields, and perhaps see themselves in those professions. While this was the initial reason I joined the LPS program, the reason I continue to participate in LPS is because of students like Jimmy*. Jimmy is a struggling student who has trouble reading and writing at grade level; because of this, it’s difficult to keep his interest engaged since learning can be very hard for him.
Jimmy was excited about getting a pen pal, but not thrilled with having to write that first letter. As my students waited eagerly for our first letter-opening day to come, I could tell Jimmy was ambivalent, because, once he opened his letter, he knew he would have to write another one. Sure enough, as I handed out all the letters on letter-opening day, I could see Jimmy playing around with his instead of opening it, like he was delaying. He was fingering his letter and looked a little confused; there seemed to be something more than a letter in the envelope.
As the other students began opening their letters, I walked around listening to the excitement and awe in the students’ voices as they shared with their friends the letters they had received. I looked at Jimmy and noticed he wasn’t saying anything. He was holding something in the palm of his hand, his brows drawn together in concentration as he stared at his letter. I thought maybe he was having trouble reading the letter so I went over to help. I asked what he had in his hand and he looked up at me with a wonder in his eyes I had never seen before. It was a fossil! His pen pal had sent him a tiny fossil. He was looking through the letter to see what it was a fossil of, and how old it was. This little boy, who struggled to read, read every word of that letter, and even shared that letter with his classmate. He proudly walked that letter up to the office so that he could show his fossil to the Principal and read to her the information in his letter. The Principal found him a small box to put his treasure in. I had no problem getting Jimmy to write a letter back to his pen pal. He was the first one done, and he has eagerly awaited each letter since.
That is why I participate in LPS; the wonder and joy it brings, and the connections my students get to make with these amazing STEM professionals, are truly inspirational and transformative. These are real connections that make a genuine difference in their lives. I don’t know why the STEM professionals participate in the program, I am just glad they do, and I am thankful a program like this exists.
*Student’s name has been changed for confidentiality.
Written by LPS teacher Annette Licata, published April 4, 2023