Meet Tanya Sanchez, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), a newly created position for the 2022-23 school year thanks to a directed gift from Chevron to the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation (MBEF). In this role, Ms. Sanchez supports the implementation of a cohesive STEM approach in grades TK-12 throughout the Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD). Having a dedicated role to develop and evaluate common data assessments, oversee curriculum development and collaboration, implement new programs and enrichment opportunities, and provide peer-to-peer coaching and best practices is truly what sets our school district apart from others.
As part of the MBEF grant of $6.1 million to MBUSD for the 2022-23 school year, over $1.25 million was allocated to support STEM education for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Thanks to the generous grant from Chevron, a longtime MBEF Community Partner and founding sponsor of the Manhattan Wine Auction, the new STEM TOSA position is already having an incredible impact. As an experienced former science teacher herself, Ms. Sanchez brings significant value to the classrooms at all grade levels as she demonstrates lessons, collaborates with teachers, assists with students and activities, and supports the development of new curriculum and programs for the classroom. By facilitating grade level, department and TK-12 STEM articulation meetings, Ms. Sanchez is able to identify challenges, needs, and ways to support that will benefit both teachers and students. At an initial STEM articulation meeting prior to the start of the school year, Ms. Sanchez and the TK-12 STEM Teachers and Specialists developed a vision statement for STEM in MBUSD:
The MBUSD STEM learning community fosters problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication in a welcoming environment for all. Students will learn to develop interconnective technologies ethically that benefit society. Students will maximize their potential by learning to embrace failure in order to build resilience and grit.
An important aspect of the STEM TOSA is to collaborate with all STEM educators to create synergy between all school sites. Ms. Sanchez works to improve communication channels between the school sites and ensure the school community is aware of the opportunities for students to engage in STEM activities. Recently she created the STEM Tidbits newsletter, shared every other week via PeachJar, as a resource for students and families to connect to activities in school and the surrounding area.
Professional development for district STEM educators is important to encourage growth as a teacher and provide new teaching methods and technology for the curriculum they are teaching. In August, Ms. Sanchez facilitated a day of professional development and collaboration meetings with Science Lab Specialists, Makerspace Specialists, MBMS STEM/Wheel Teachers and the MCHS Technology and Engineering Department teachers. On-going professional development will continue throughout the school year to ensure that MBUSD STEM programs vertically align and continue to evolve. The STEM TOSA role is a critical part of ensuring this connection as students progress. Ms. Sanchez also works directly with educators to help their programs function by ensuring proper instructional materials, resources and support to effectively teach their students.
Ms. Sanchez works directly with MBEF-funded MakerSpace and Science Specialists who provide elementary students with hands-on lab experiences and project-based learning opportunities to strengthen a students’ passion for science. MakerSpace, particular for the younger students, is a creative outlet that allows kids to problem-solve challenges or questions, and many times helps kids think critically. Science Lab lessons are directly linked to the curriculum students are learning in their grade-level classrooms, providing a unique opportunity to see the lesson put into practice.
At MBMS, Ms. Sanchez is identifying curriculum gaps and determining where new curriculum and skills should be included to better prepare students for the transition from the middle school to high school. A significant part of this effort is the development of new STEM curriculum in all 6th grade science classes. All students will have access to several hands-on engineering projects that are connected to a unit. For examples, students will participate in a Prosthetic Device Challenge during the unit on the human body. The yearlong STEM electives supported by a directed grant from Northrop Grumman ensure 7th and 8th graders continue to have dedicated courses to support their developing interests in disciplines like coding and engineering.
With Ms. Sanchez’ encouragement, MBMS has also revived the VEX Robotics program as a school sanctioned club under the direction of science teacher, Stacey Cooke. Parent volunteers, along with Mira Costa Vex Robotics students, are mentoring the middle schoolers with the expectation of taking part in a competition in early 2023. MBMS will also host its own Family STEM Night presented by Chevron on March 2, 2023 to provide an opportunity for middle school families to showcase coursework and take part in hands-on demonstrations.
Ms. Sanchez is also reviewing the current pathways in place for students in high school. Students at Mira Costa have access to an incredible selection of beginning and advanced electives, including Cybersecurity, Principles of Engineering, and Introduction to Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Many of the courses are also designated as college credit at some universities or lead to an advanced designation in a technical field.
Textbook adoptions are an important part of ensuring high-quality teaching and learning and Ms. Sanchez is guiding and supporting teachers through the process of evaluating the printed and digital resources to make recommendations for purchase this year for Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
Part of her role is also working with the College and Career Center Counselors, also funded by MBEF, to identify STEM internship opportunities for students who have demonstrated an interest in advanced opportunities outside the classrooms. Mira Costa will also host its own STEM Night on Thursday, May 25, 2023 that will showcase STEM course work, but also highlight career opportunities for graduates.
In just a few short months, the addition of Tanya Sanchez as the STEM TOSA has already had an incredible impact on all our schools, teachers and students. With her leadership, our STEM programs throughout the district will ensure our students can navigate and engage in the 21st century global society.