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ESEP: Participatory Change

To produce real and lasting change in a large and complex social organization is difficult. To accomplish it in a large, urban system that is as diverse as the Atlanta Public Schools requires great effort. To meet the challenge, the ESEP has emphasized in all of its science education reform activities the concept of participatory reform.

1. The first aim of participatory reform is to ensure that APS teachers and administrators are actively engaged in the design and implementation of the reform effort and become vested in all its aspects. To involve APS personnel in the identification of their own needs and concerns, a professional cultural anthropologist, Dr. Kathryn Kozaitis, serves as a member of the ESEP Executive Council and is a participating facilitator in professional development sessions for teachers and administrators.

2. A companion aim of participatory reform is to ensure that sensitivity is built into all aspects of the program to sociocultural issues and differences in learning styles and to the cultural dimensions of the required change. Research results to date indicate that all children can benefit from inquiry-based science instruction, irrespective of gender, culture, or socio-economic background. Kozaitis promotes acceptance of change and of diversity by leading teachers, principals, instructional specialists, and other groups of APS personnel through needs-assessment sessions, to help them identify their own critical experiences, insights, and values and to apply them to recommendations to achieve the main goal--to improve science education for all children in the system.

3. The third aim of participatory reform is to help the undergraduate science partners understand their roles as helpers and change agents. To do this, Kozaitis leads some of the reflection sessions with the partners.

4. Finally, the fourth aim is to advise ESEP staff on how to maintain sensitivity to sociocultural differences among the various ethnic, professional, and socioeconomic groups involved in the ESEP partnership with APS. The goal is extremely important because of the diversity represented by the involved academic scientists and college students as well as the APS population of more than 30,000 children and some 1,600 classroom teachers. Of the children, most live in the inner city; 91% are African-American; and 76% qualify for free or reduced-price lunches--populations that have traditionally been underserved by science education. Given these facts, one focus of participatory reform is to include females and members of minority groups among the science partners and scientist mentors to serve as role models for the children. Another focus is to provide instructional ideas for teachers that show African and African-American contributions to the historical development of science and mathematics.

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