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Two Dougherty Elementary School Difference Makers Keep the Focus on STEM

May 1, 2015
Dougherty Elementary School STEM

Dougherty Elementary School STEM

As we have learned through our popular Difference Makers series, adult volunteers at all of our school sites come from varied backgrounds and offer many wonderful attributes. recently approached Dougherty Elementary School Principal Brett Nelson to guide us on a profile of his site. He gladly shared the names of two volunteers that are making significant contributions – particularly in the area of STEM. We are pleased to share the story of these individuals and to let them express why they appreciate the opportunity to make a difference at Dougherty.

We will start with the fascinating journey of Francis Anaya. She moved to the Bay Area from Mexico in 2000. She attained a B.S in Electronics Engineering from Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana – Mexico City and a subsequent specialization certificate in Fundamentals of Computing from Rice University. Her family initially landed in Newark, but they ultimately moved to Dublin in search of better schools. Both Francis and her husband are Software Engineers and possess a love of all things mathematical and scientific. Her two sons, Daniel and Alejandro are in the fifth and first grades, respectively. This has been a year of increased activity for Ms. Anaya as she has she supported the Family Math Night, has been active in running Science Labs and also became an officer in the PFC. Francis shared some of thoughts on the past year and what she looks forward to in the future. You had mentioned that your family moved from Newark to Dublin. Why did you make this move?

Francis Anaya

Francis Anaya

Francis Anaya: “We knew a few friends who lived in the Tri-Valley area, they seemed very happy here, so in 2003 we moved to an apartment in Dublin and a few years after that we decided to buy our home in 2008. We really like living here as Dublin is a nice family-oriented community.” You have presently assumed the role of Co-Treasurer for the Dougherty PFC. Explain why this role is important to you.

Anaya: “As a parent I think it is important to speak up, share and discuss your ideas, concerns or experiences so changes can be made that can help to improve your child’s experience at school. Being part of the PFC board as a co-Treasurer has allowed me to do that and witness positive changes by offering different programs and social events that benefit our students and their families.” Currently, you are supporting the ongoing ventures of the Science labs and their activities. Please be specific in describing how you are helping this effort.

Anaya: “Principal Nelson wanted to have a “hands-on” lab experience for our 3rd – 5th grade students, so I volunteered to chair the program. As a chair, I’ve been working with Ms. Jawed, one of our 5th grade teachers who has a background in science. She chooses the labs the students will be doing according to the new NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards, which are considered the Common Core Standards for Science). Once the labs have been chosen I work with Ms. Cildir our Vice-Principal who coordinates with the teachers to set the dates for the labs and the training of both teachers and volunteers. Once we have the dates, I start recruiting parents to help present the labs to the students. Ms Jawed and I create PowerPoint presentations to allow the students to visualize the theory behind the labs. I purchase the supplies and organize them so that they can be distributed in all the 3rd to 5th grade classrooms with help from other volunteers. Ms Jawed presents the labs to both teachers and volunteer parents. We record these presentations, so teachers and parents who could not make it to the training sessions can be prepared by watching those videos. Once the labs are finished, Ms Cildir and I collect all the supplies that can be re-used and store them for the following school year.” We discussed being a new parent at Dougherty Elementary. We also talked about the environment as being a parent volunteer. Please describe your venture into this space. Was it easy or difficult?

Anaya: “My oldest son started in Dougherty Elementary in kindergarten. I started volunteering when he was in 2nd grade by helping my son’s teacher with small tasks. I didn’t know how to help in the beginning and coming from another country where things are done in a completely different fashion, it took me some time to learn that if I wanted to help I had to ask. I saw other moms (usually the same faces) helping in different events and I started to attend the PFC meetings where you really learn what happens at school. It was one of the board members who invited me to be a Co-Treasurer for this school year. It was an easy process once you start, I felt the volunteers were a very close group, but I learned that it was just my perception as they all were very nice to me once I started helping and getting more involved.” Please describe why it has meant so much to you to assist in the science labs. You talked about “always teaching someone” and cited the process of turning liquids into gases. What does this mean to you?

Anaya: “I’ve always liked science and math. When I was in high school, I ended up always teaching someone – a classmate or my sister, usually helping them with math. I enjoy teaching other people, so when I see my kids or others having the “a-ha” moment when they get something or feeling proud because their experiment or project went the way they wanted, it makes me feel happy. For this year, one of the fifth grade labs was about designing and building a dam, and as I was showing the students the pictures of some of the dams built in California. It was nice to see some students had visited some of those colossal structures, and were able to recognize the design and why they were built the way they were. And other students were very excited to design/build their own dam and make it strong enough to hold water without leaking.”

This now brings us to our second Dougherty Elementary Difference Maker. Michele Canapp and her family relocated from Maryland last July to Dublin. Her sons – a third grader and seventh grader are enrolled at Dougherty and Fallon Middle School, respectively. While making this transition to CA, she currently supports her husband’s staffing business in HR and Payroll. Michele attained a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. While she has some latitude in her daily life, Ms. Canapp has figured out how to best support volunteer efforts at Dougherty. We now share our conversation. Your family recently relocated from MD to Dublin, CA. Once your boys became enrolled at Dougherty and Fallon, respectively, how did you approach becoming a parent volunteer? How important was this activity to you?

Michele Canapp

Michele Canapp

Michele Canapp: “As soon as the first week of school, I was filing the volunteer paperwork. I spoke to Henry’s teacher, Mrs. Neuschwander about helping in the classroom, and when the first sign-up genius went out for Copy Team support, I signed up on a regular basis. I attended the first PFC meeting, to get an idea of what kinds of activities the PFC supported, and to determine where I could best be of service. As soon as I found out about the science lab programs, I knew that I would be involved however I could.” Principal Nelson mentioned that you help out with the STEM labs at Dougherty Elementary. Please be specific and articulate your hands on approach with the students.

Canapp: “I have run the labs for the 3rd graders. For the first lab, I only ran the lab for my son’s class. Mrs. Neuschwander’s asked me if I would be willing to work with more classrooms in future labs, and so I did.
When I come into the classroom to do these activities, it is my goal, to allow the teacher a chance to let someone else lead the class in discovery and learning. I always begin by facilitating a discussion with the class to get them to start thinking about the principals of science and/or engineering our lab that day will demonstrate. Learning science and experiencing engineering is about discovery. Whenever possible, I try to get the students to work individually as well as with partners. We all learn more by contemplating on our own first, then comparing and collaborating, and then it is important to share and reflect and expand at the end.

“Of the labs we’ve done so far, by far the most successful was the engineering lab. Our goal was to design a structure that would keep a piece of tissue paper dry in a flood. Seeing the variety of structures and solutions that the kids came up with was so inspiring. Seeing the pride on their faces when they were successful and the determination to figure out a better solution when they weren’t, that was what it was all about for me. If I helped inspire just one child to consider growing up to be an engineer, then I did what I came to do that day.” During our conversation, you stated that you are “not a leader” but that you find it difficult to say “no” when a need for support arises. In your own words, tell us the personal value in becoming an adult volunteer in any initiative.

Canapp: “Honestly, I can’t imagine life not volunteering in some capacity. I would say it is against my DNA to not be seen as a person who volunteers to help. It isn’t so much about personal value, as I see it as a part of life. If I wasn’t a parent, I would volunteer in museums or parks or in Senior Centers. My family instilled in me at a very early age the importance of volunteer work, and it is important to me to do the same for my boys. The best way to do that is to volunteer myself. Not to mention the good feeling I get doing it.” By the time that this piece is published, the Dougherty Mardi Gras will have concluded. Please share that experience.

Canapp: “The Mardi Gras Gala was a huge success! The JDS community and the community at large really came together to have a great time and raise a lot of money for our art and science programs. I personally ran our Dessert Dash and we unofficially raised close to $2000 dollars. I am looking forward to the resources we will have available next year because of this event.” Anything else that you would like to add?

Canapp: “I wish that I could figure out what to say that would get more parents, grandparents, and members of the community to volunteer in the schools. Every time I am there, I see another opportunity for volunteering – even if it is just a couple of hours in a school year. If you run across anyone who asks “why should I volunteer, or I can’t volunteer?” send them my way for a conversation.”

Here are two unique parents with two very unique approaches to the concept of volunteering at Dougherty Elementary. They have both found a way to find their niche within the school site and to help the students and their programs flourish. We now understand why Principal Nelson eagerly shared their names. And, we now understand why there is such a strong parental/guardian presence at Dougherty Elementary. Thank you Francis and Michele for what you do.

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