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'Magnet for Science!'
By Miriam G. Mazliach
May 17, 2011
A few years back, there was talk of closing Mattos Elementary School, until a group of involved parents, dedicated teachers and the Science Specialist, proposed to the School District and Board that Mattos should become a Science Magnet. Since that time in 2002, the elementary school has been thriving and currently has a waiting list for the fall term. Parents and students across Fremont and even some from outside the area are drawn by the school’s emphasis on teaching Science, not only in the Science Lab, but as an integral component of every subject taught throughout the school day.
Principal Marsha Parker says, “At this time, enrollment is full for next year and we have a long waiting list for Kindergarten and 1st grade. But sometimes a spot opens up during the summer, so you can always check.” Parker explained that if a student has an interest in attending Mattos, the best approach would be to apply early in the year, like January, for future consideration. Additionally, the student’s home school needs to be contacted to begin the intra-district transfer process.
The Science Lab, named in honor of long-time Science Specialist Sue Burgess who retired last June, is a fascinating place. Rocks, minerals, birds’ nests, charts, bottles, posters, insects, pieces of animal skeletons, and all sorts of amazing scientific paraphernalia, line its walls and tables. The current Science Specialist, Wendy Goodfellow previously taught alongside Burgess for four years, before assuming the position this year and has worked in the school district for twenty years.
“Susan Burgess was the driving force in creating Mattos as a Science Magnet,” says Goodfellow. “She was able to get many donations and developed the program. This is such an amazing lab and resource.”
The time students spend in the lab is invaluable, affording them an opportunity for hands-on experience, which supports the Science curriculum being taught in the classroom. Grades one through three, work in the Science Lab for one-50 minute period each week; grades four through six, have two-50 minute lab periods during the school week. (Kindergarten works with their own teacher in their classrooms.)
Students and teachers in all subjects are committed to the Science focus. “Teachers also feel that added importance to cover all the Science information in class and to get through the entire textbook,” adds Goodfellow. Written syllabi for each grade level is updated each year as far as what is taught in the classroom and what is taught in the lab. Students are instructed in the same Science curriculum as adopted by the District, but are given further reading, writing or projects in the subject.
Grades four, five and six are required to participate in the Science Fair each year, whether the district holds one or not. Students in grades one through three are encouraged to participate but are not required.
Parents play an integral part as well, especially in the new Science Committee, which meets once a month. “Chairman, Lisa Hallas is very driven to get things accomplished,” says Goodfellow. The Science Committee helps organize activities such as Science Career Day and Astronomy Nights. At the most recent event, held on May 6, students and their families had an opportunity to look through telescopes and see Saturn, its rings and one of its moons, during the evening event. Dr. Chris McCarthy, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Astronomy from San Francisco State University, was in attendance and gave a brief lecture on inner and outer planets.
According to both Goodfellow and Principal Parker, the school also receives a lot of support from the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), which works to raise funds for: materials and supplies used in the lab, assemblies, and fieldtrips, among other items. In particular, the PTA purchased two different types of microscopes for the Science Lab.
“I think it’s fabulous. Mattos draws students and families who support the program,” says Goodfellow.
Principal Parker adds, “Feedback from parents is that they are really glad their kids are here. They see this as a great opportunity and the children enjoy it, too.”