CONCORD -- Radio Disney performers used comedy, drama, break dancing, games, props, science demonstrations and high-volume contemporary music to capture the attention of El Monte Elementary School students at a Science Rocks assembly.
"It was really funny!" exclaimed second-grader Allison Youde. "The interesting part was when they used things I did not know about, like when she was spinning around with a bucket of water over her head and it didn't spill."
In the context of high-energy, game show-type entertainment, demonstrations of centrifugal force and air pressure looked like magic tricks to the auditorium full of second- through fifth-grade students.
Already contemplating an astrophysics career, fifth-grader Conner Norlund was not as amazed as some, but said he thought the show was great.
With "Call Me Maybe" from the 2012 Summer Olympics booming from the speakers and the background set lit up, kids joined in to sing along.
Delighted to hear students shout," Science Rocks," El Monte Tech Bridge and fifth-grade teacher June Kirske said, "We use that (Jeopardy-like) game in the classroom. It gets them to discuss a science question and use the terminology."
"When they get excited about learning, they become creative and empowered," Kirske said. "Science embraces all students. English language learners or kids that learn in nontraditional ways can excel because science is 'thinking outside of the box.'"
"We are always pushing science. It is the future," said El Monte Principal Christina Bowman, who was glad to have the assembly at her school. "It was motivational and made science fun. Anything that peaks (students') interest is good, no matter what the subject is."
The California State PTA-sponsored pilot program, offered at 14 Bay Area public schools in four districts, is intended to raise awareness about science and science careers. Four Mt. Diablo Unified School District schools were selected.
An anonymous donor paid for the pilot, which is aligned with the federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative, and the STEAM program (includes arts) in Contra Costa County.
Federal emphasis on STEM comes from the idea that the United States needs more qualified workers in those fields and that some minorities and women have been traditionally underrepresented in the professions.
The STEM initiative is an effort to remedy the situation through federally funded teacher training and student outreach. It was expanded as the Math and Science Partnership in 2012.
El Monte Parent Teacher Association president Jennifer Fitzgerald agreed with Bowman's assessment of the student engagement in Science Rocks, but neither knew how the school was chosen.
"We got an email out of the blue," Bowman said. "At first I was suspicious of it and wasn't sure it was for real."
Fitzgerald suggested, "El Monte is a recognized Title I school and it has had an impressive increase in test scores over the past five years. We have had a huge reduction in bullying incidents, too."
Title I is a federal schools reform strategy to upgrade academic performance in schools where at least 40 percent of the students in the school or residing in the attendance area, are from low-income families. Title I schools can receive additional federal funding.
The Mt. Diablo district can be characterized as a representative California microcosm, according to Kathryn Cross, state PTA vice president for communications.
"Mt. Diablo is one of the largest school districts in the state of California, with over 56 school sites and programs," Cross said. "The district's statistics for ethnic/racial diversity, average class size, test scores, numbers of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students and primary languages they represent, mirror those for the state of California as a whole."
How El Monte was chosen did not matter to the students. The assembly was such raucous fun that school secretary Kim Currey said, "The cheers at the Science Rocks assembly were so loud that a kindergartner asked me, 'Is Justin Beiber here?'"
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