Impact Stories

  • Maria Nicolacakis

Scientific Literacy at Acalanes: an Interview with Jada Paniagua

Scientific literacy is the name of the game at Acalanes! The Acalanes Science Department has proudly made it a goal that all students leave high school with a background in basic sciences. With a wide variety of course offerings, from required graduation classes to many electives, the Acalanes High School Science Dept. is robust, thriving and accessible to all.

We recently sat down with Jada Paniagua, teacher of AP Environmental Sciences, who gave us a glimpse of the science world at Acalanes. Let’s hear what she had to say!

Thank you for speaking with us today, Ms. Paniagua. Tell us a little bit about yourself… your background, what you teach at Acalanes, and how long have you been here?

I studied Environmental Science at UC Berkeley, and graduated with a class of 13 in the major. I went almost directly to San Francisco State for my teaching credential, and was hired as a brand new teacher here in 2006. I currently share the Department Chair position with Dan Appel, and have been working as chair since 2015.

Give us an overview of the Science Dept. at Acalanes today and its goals.

From my perspective, our goal as a department is to make our core science classes accessible to all students, provide students with a wide range of science electives, and provide an opportunity for students who are interested in a more rigorous experience. We strive to educate all of our students in scientific literacy, as well as offer preparation for college level science courses for the students who want it.

What shifts in science education, if any, have you seen in the last 15 years that you’ve been teaching at Acalanes?

There has been a large shift towards skills, rather than emphasizing memorization of ideas. Teaching scientific literacy and scientific thought as skills for them to take with them into the world. There has also been a national shift in prioritizing that all students are educated in the core sciences: Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science (chemistry and physics). In the past, physics and sometimes chemistry were not courses that were designed to be accessible to all students.

What examples can you give us of students utilizing their scientific education once they leave Acalanes, even if they don’t necessarily pursue science as a career or major?

I have had students apply an environmental lens to careers in fashion, journalism, art, engineering, and probably many other fields.

Please tell us what role LPIE plays in the science department.

LPIE provides us with the funding to buy ALL of our lab supplies. As a department, we need a budget that can annually purchase all of our consumable materials in our labs, as well as fix, maintain, and update our lab equipment. LPIE provides us with that generous funding.

What would you tell your high school aged self today?

Life as an adult does not feel anything like life as a teenager.