INSPIRATION IS EVERWHERE

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With Apple and FIRST, we’re bringing robotics to every student

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Zandra Jo Galván

Superintendent, Greenfield Union School District, Greenfield, California

During the 2019-2020 season, more than one-third of public K-12 districts had at least one FIRST team, and 45% of U.S. public schools with FIRST® programs were Title I schools, meaning they serve a high percentage of students from low-income families – students who historically don’t get access to the same meaningful opportunities as their peers. To close the gap, many districts implement FIRST programs through generous sponsor funding and support from the FIRST School District Partnership Program. FIRST works with sponsors to bring millions in funding to school districts in need around the country to increase access to FIRST.
 

The mantra at Greenfield Union School District, which serves approximately 3,600 PreK-8 students in Greenfield, Calif., is “ALL means ALL.” With 95% of students from socioeconomically disadvantaged families and 59% English learners (many speak Spanish at home), equity and access are critical when implementing new programs. “We want to make sure that, whatever we do, we do it on a large scale, so every student has that experience,” said Superintendent Zandra Jo Galván. 

Greenfield USD is bringing FIRST into every classroom.

Greenfield USD is bringing FIRST into every classroom.


In support of the district’s goals, FIRST Strategic Partner Apple provided funding for FIRST Class Packs, FIRST Certified Professional Development, and other materials and support that enabled Greenfield to bring an in-classroom FIRST® LEGO® League experience to every PreK-6 student in the district. The district also plans to bring FIRST® Tech Challenge opportunities to middle school, when students have access to career pathway electives. “The Apple funding has opened doors for our students through innovative technology, professional training, creative spaces, and thoughtful exposure and opportunity to STEM careers,” Zandra said. “Imagine the amazing skill level of our students that are going to be entering careers within the vast STEM fields because of Apple and because of FIRST.”

COVID-19 interrupted the district’s plans for an intra-school celebratory FIRST event, but that hasn’t slowed excitement for FIRST from teachers, parents, and students. “They learn so much conceptually by being able to build and design. They’re able to use reading and mathematics and writing and the languages they’re learning as it applies to engineering and designing their robots. The kids love it,” Zandra said.

Zandra shared more about the Greenfield Union School District’s strategy to prepare every student for the future:
 

What inspired this partnership and Greenfield's district-wide, in-classroom implementation of FIRST last year? How did the district's “ALL means ALL” philosophy influence that?
We’re super happy to have Apple and FIRST sponsoring and supporting our kids here in Greenfield. When we say “all means all,” we want to make sure that, whatever we do, we do it on a large scale so every student has that experience. We had already purchased with local funding robotics [materials] for all of our classes, so when Apple and FIRST came in, they were able to enhance it [with FIRST programs]. It was a partnership on how we use our resources and financial opportunities to really support all of our kids.

FIRST sent us trainers. We trained 2nd-8th grade teachers, then we went back and trained all of our Preschool, Kindergarten, and 1st grade teachers. Each of our classrooms were full of teachers that were really excited about the [FIRST season] challenges. We launched the challenges, and then COVID hit so we weren’t able to do our March exposition. That still doesn’t negate the excitement of our teachers and students though. We’ve already identified coaches, and we know where the materials need to go when we do transition to in-person to encourage full participation.  

What does Apple’s funding and support mean for the district and the impact you can have with FIRST
The Apple funding has opened doors for our students through innovative technology, professional training, creative spaces, and thoughtful exposure and opportunity to STEM careers. The partnership is going to be astronomical for our kids. We live very close to Silicon Valley. To know students in our district will be starting in preschool with the skill set, and every year their depth of knowledge goes deeper and deeper: Imagine the amazing skill level of our students that are going to be entering careers within the vast STEM fields because of Apple and because of FIRST.
 

Greenfield Union School District educators receive FIRST Certified Professional Development.

Greenfield Union School District educators receive FIRST Certified Professional Development.

What impact have you seen FIRST have on your students so far?
In stakeholder surveys, our students said, “We need more hands-on. We love science; we love doing things with our hands.” Our parents and our teachers said the same thing, so that’s when we started planning our investment and purchasing materials. When FIRST and Apple came in, they allowed us to purchase more materials. Students will never give up their LEGO time or their robotics time or their hands-on science time. They learn so much conceptually by being able to build and design. They’re able to use reading and mathematics and writing and the languages they’re learning as it applies to engineering and designing their robots. The kids love it.

What kind of feedback have you heard from parents?
Our parents are so excited about it. We had parent opening nights in our LEGO Innovation labs, which have the FIRST equipment and LEGO equipment, in every one of our schools. Apple helped support some of the materials that went into those buildings. Our parents just want the best for their kids. So opening our parents’ eyes to opportunities in engineering, robotics, architecture, and design that FIRST has been able to provide through the challenges is also opening potential career doors. 

Looking ahead, what do you hope to inspire in students through FIRST? Why was it important to you to continue these programs, even in a challenging year like this one?
For me, it was opportunity and experience, as well as, equity and access. Opportunity and experience to do things they’ve never done before. As a young girl, I grew up here in Greenfield. I didn’t have robotics in my hands, I didn’t have coding and computer science. Would I have chosen a different career? Maybe. But I didn’t have that experience or opportunity presented to me. We are opening doors for children to have opportunities and experiences to enter a wealth of fields – technology and engineering and all other aspects and for those reasons we are excited to partner with Apple and FIRST.

Equity and access: In Greenfield, we don’t do it for just an after-school program or a special group with academic achievement. We do it for ALL kids. Every student will have a robot in front of them, and then when they get to middle school, they now have a choice to select an elective [such as] architecture, computer science, app creators, etc. We have a plethora of really robust electives in our middle school that they get to choose because of the opportunities and skills that they develop in the elementary setting.


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