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Investing in Science Excellence for Long-Term Results

Sara Carvalho
Teacher, Physiology and CTE Biotech
Santa Clara High School

When you walk into one of Sara Carvalho’s Career Technology Education (CTE) biotechnology or physiology classes at Santa Clara High School, you will likely see students moving around, engrossed in discussions about cellular functions in the human body, performing dissections on vertebrates, and executing polymerase chain reactions (PCR) to produce copies of DNA regions. What you won’t hear? Silence. “I don’t need my classroom to be silent,” said Carvalho, who has taught at Santa Clara High School for the entire nine years of her teaching career. “I want to hear students talking about the topics I have brought in front of them, and have a genuine interest.”

Carvalho credits the updated labs and classroom set up for being conducive to the fun learning atmosphere that she strives to create for students each day. “I want them to enjoy what they are learning and feel like they can be themselves,” she explained, reflecting on how her high school biology teacher inspired her to pursue a career and approaches as a science teacher. “You wanted to be in her classroom, you felt welcome.” Carvalho explained that the science classroom set up at the school allows students to be up and out of their seats, share their results with each other, and keeps the energy up in the classroom.

Access to cutting-edge laboratory equipment is one way that Santa Clara High School CTE biotech students are being prepared for future careers in  Silicon Valley. Students have access to equipment that scientists in real research labs are using. For example, students can run PCR reactions, which is an in vitro technique to make many copies of a specific DNA region. “My students are so excited to see the same activities and equipment being used by scientists in labs that they visit during field trips,” said Carvalho. She also reinforces other career skills such deadlines, communication skills, and communicating results — which are skills that can be used in any career they choose.

Another way in which Carvalho is exposing her students to the demands of future Silicon Valley careers is through advising the GAINS (Girls Achieving in Non-Traditional Subjects) program, in which 75 Santa Clara High School female students participate out of 400 students districtwide. The core mission of GAINS is to introduce girls to fields that are traditionally male-dominated. The program brings in female professionals who are successful in their careers at a variety of businesses throughout Silicon Valley.  “We have brought in women whose careers are in computers, law, marketing, and even a rocket scientist from NASA, as well as women of color — just so the girls can see themselves in at least one speaker,” said Carvalho.

Carvalho shared that the increasing interest in STEM fields, including computer science (two classes were added at Santa Clara High School) is in large part because Santa Clara Unified School District has placed a priority on keeping pace with what is happening in Silicon Valley. She also shared that because of this, the district supports the ongoing professional development of science teachers through sending them to the National Science Teachers Association conference over the past few years. This ongoing training provides teachers the resources they need to make their teaching more relevant and innovative so that students can succeed.

For Carvalho, investments in student success have long-term results. “I want them to be able to leave my classroom and critically analyze what they are learning,” she explained. “They need to be able to be critical evaluators to the information they are receiving. If a student wants to learn more and have a genuine interest in what they are learning,” Carvalho continued,  “Then I know I have been successful.”