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Empowering Young Women Leaders: Kayla Hopple ’17 at Cadwallader Elementary School in El Paso, TX

I am currently working at Cadwallader Elementary School in the Ysleta Independent School District. I worked here during my last co-op with a Kindergarten teacher and have returned for this co-op to work with the students as first graders. In many ways, I act as the teacher normally would, performing the various tasks that she does on a daily basis. As a Teaching Assistant, I assist the teacher in preparing assignments, daily activities, instructing the students, and helping with tutoring. Although this is a short list of the things that are done in the classroom, it gives you an overall impression of my daily tasks.

One of the great things about working at the school is seeing how the students react to different subjects, particularly science. They take great interest in reading books about animals, habitats, and how the world works. Although it takes time for the students to grasp how some things work, like how the Earth revolves around the Sun and not vice versa, they remain willing to learn, continually asking questions. Whenever we go to the library they ask their teacher, the librarian, and I to help them find books about space, animals, day and night, and other science-related topics. Their general curiosity about the world is almost like a friendly competition as they often report their findings to both their peers and myself.

This is very interesting to see since they often tend to gender everything that they come in contact with. If there is a purple basketball the boys refuse to play with it even though they insist that basketball is a “boy sport.” Simple things like this are often used by the students to divide themselves into their respective genders. Everything that is, except for science, a traditionally male-dominated field of study. The greatest thing about the students’ love of science is that they don’t feel that it’s a gendered subject. This gendering of everything by the students is something that I try to combat in the classroom since I know that as you get older it won’t matter if the pencil you are using is blue or pink. Nobody cares about trivial things like that as time goes on, but it seems to be an integral part of the students’ worlds so it is surprising to me that they take to science so quickly and easily, especially when, traditionally, men occupy the STEM professions.

Whenever the students learn something new in science I encourage them to ask questions and reinforce their love of science. Although I encourage the whole class to think about science on a daily basis, I try to focus my efforts on the girls. The reason why I do this is because of a commercial I saw about girls losing interest in STEM classes as they progress through their academic career. With women being so poorly underrepresented in science fields, maybe if I could encourage girls’ natural curiosity at a young age, then perhaps they would consider a career in science when they are older.

Working with the first graders is a lot of fun, but I also get to work with the El Paso City Science and Engineering Fair as their media correspondent. The city fair was held this past February 21st and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners get to move on to the State Fair. If they win there, they can move on to Internationals. At the city level, there are also sweepstakes winners, who automatically get to move on to Internationals. This year, for the first time in 30 years, two Latina females won the city competition. This is a big deal since not only are women underrepresented in science but minorities are as well. Moving on to the international science fair is something that is a huge benefit to all who attend. Not only are the best of the best attending the fair, but people who wish to find a great competitor and project to sponsor, often giving money, grants, scholarships, internships, and other means of support to those projects who they deem to be an invaluable asset to the future of science, often attend. Even if a prize is not won, those who attend the fair gain contacts and knowledge about the future of science.

Working at these two co-ops has been a great experience that has let me see how the classroom is used to encourage students to develop a natural curiosity for science. From the elementary school level where students first begin to learn about the world around them to the high school level where that curiosity can take them to one of the most competitive science competitions in the world, science can be seen as something all students can use in their daily lives.

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