Black Children and STEM education 1

By STEFANIE FOSTER BROWN

On her first day of high school, Edith sat in the same remedial English Lit class assigned to all the other black students in the school. Just as the teacher at the head of the lecture hall began roll call, a second teacher entered the room. She was young, had long black hair, and her name was Ms. Massaicotte. That was all Edith knew about her. When Edith’s name was called, Ms. Massaicotte scanned the room and then pointed her finger directly at Edith. “She doesn’t belong here,” she said. Edith didn’t know why Ms. Massaicotte singled her out, but that same day, the school administration switched her to a new classroom. This time all the students were white and their curriculum was a designated part of the school’s honor track.

Edith grew up to be Dr. Davis, the first ever African-American woman geophysicists. Her studies have taken her to the most prestigious universities and training centers in the country. She has dedicated her career to promoting STEM education and championing students much the way Ms. Massaicotte did her. As a woman of color in a field dominated by white males, she knows a thing or two about holding her own. For sure, Dr. Davis is a groundbreaker.

Dr. Davis has had perhaps as many mentors as she has had successful outcomes in her life. First, there was her grandmother, a woman known to routinely christen the heads of small children in the family with oil as she prayed blessings over them. It was as though the woman spoke success right into fruition.

There were also the academic mentors. Her earliest science lessons began in the garden, while resting on the lap of her mama. Dr. Davis would listen intently as her mother pointed out parts of fruits and flowers. The harvested beauties had come from the land of her grandfather, a farmer and self-taught botanist famed throughout the county for his hybrid roses. Dr. Davis knew from an early age, that there were things in this world to be discovered, explored, and appreciated.

By the time Dr. Davis entered school, she was already a passionate learner, veracious for information. She’d excel through each grade. But it wasn’t until high school that Dr. Davis would meet the mentor who would, in many ways, train her to think like a scientist. That’s when she joined the forensics team, where her coach taught her the immeasurable value of self-critique. Through the careful constructive criticism of her coach, Dr. Davis learned how to turn her mistakes into something productive. Just by getting in the routine of reassessing her steps and learning to ask questions like, “Is there a better way to do this?” Dr. Davis learned the secret behind constant improvement.

When asked what she attributes to her success, Dr. Davis speaks more about others than any personal attribute of her own. Many paved the path before her.

May her story remind us of the potential groundbreaker in every child . . . And, more importantly, may we always remember our power to be models, to create moments, and to leave memories with every child.

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Stefanie Foster Brown, a certified school psychologist, hosts Preschoology, a blog for parents and school professionals to find fresh ideas, tips, and tools to help young children learn and grow. She lives in Tampa with her husband, Eli, and their daughter. The couple are currently developing a series of educational mobile apps to teach young children new skills. Check out Stefanie on Twitter and Facebook.

This post appeared first on Preschoology. It was reprinted with permission.

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