I’m a Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, which basically means that I support teachers, schools and administrators in improving the teaching and learning in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Since our team is so small, we are not “specialists”, in that we are each focusing on a particular discipline. Some counties have a Math Coordinator, Science Coordinator, English Language Arts Coordinator, and so on. We lack the manpower to do that.. We are what you call “generalists”, which means we each support all of the above, and then some. For a middle school science teacher, this is a stretch, but I see it as a great opportunity to learn. So, that’s what I’m doing, learning.
The County Office hosts a county-wide Science Fair, and I was helping to set up the event space – hanging posters, labeling tables by project category, preparing the judging area, and so on – when the phone rang. It’s usually my wife, so I pulled my phone from my pocket fully expecting to see her name and picture. Nope; it was a local number I didn’t recognize. After a moment of deliberation, weighing the hypothetical risks and rewards of answering, I decided I could use a break from the poster-hanging, and answered. It was Gary Bloom, Superintendent of Santa Cruz City Schools. Hearing his voice and name caused a variety of reactions. Is he calling about the cancelled content literacy training, about to tell me it was back on and he needed me for Monday? Did I blow it somehow? Did he have the wrong number?
None of the above.
Gary’s call was apparently what is sounds like when opportunity knocks (or rings, or vibrates). He asked if I would be interested in a two-week trip to Panama to do some fieldwork with the scientists – geologists, paleontologists, biologists, paleoecologists, and so on – that are taking advantage of the ongoing project to widen the Panama Canal. To do the work, forests are being cleared and the canal excavated, which is providing access to strata of rock and fossils that have not yet been well documented. I was intrigued already. He went on to tell me that this “project” was a partnership between The National Science Foundation, The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (although, admittedly, all I heard was the “Smithsonian” part), The University of Florida, and Santa Cruz City Schools. It was odd to hear SCCS mentioned with all these heavyweights, but I listened on as Gary described his participation in last year’s trip – he and five Santa Cruz area science educators doing the science alongside the scientists in order to better understand the teaching and learning of actual science. I was all in by this point, but he went on.
When I hung up the phone, I just sat and considered the opportunity that had just called. This was not the kind of thing that happens to me; I’m more likely to be called by my dentist to return to the office to have a molar pulled.