For Helen Douglass, a lifelong lover of science, something was very wrong with the curriculum in her first elementary school teaching positions. During the “No Child Left Behind” years, multilingual learners weren’t given science classes due to their presumed inability to grasp the concepts involved. Schools could actually suffer in accountability measures if they deviated from a strict language arts and math curriculum. Knowing that young children have a natural affinity for science, Douglass began stealth-teaching, linking science material to other subjects.
Douglass has always been interested in science and describes herself as having been a constantly curious and questioning child. After earning an undergraduate degree in biology and nutrition, she worked in chemistry labs and hospitals. When she began going into elementary-grade classrooms as a dietician, her enjoyment in working with children flowered. Soon, the teaching bug bit. She got her credentials at Regis University and began her new career.
After years of classroom teaching, Douglass began participating in alternative educational programs, and soon she began providing professional development to teachers. She grew to realize that policy drives practice, and she knew that if children were to receive an appropriate science education, research-based policy that valued science education was needed. Although national policy mandates have since changed in her favor, she still sees inequities at the classroom level, especially for multilingual students and girls.
Douglass’s current work in CU Denver’s Science Education program is devoted to mastering the research skills she needs to analyze policy as it affects teacher preparation and practice. Her goal is to ensure equity in science education for all elementary schoolchildren.
This year, Douglass has been invited to join 23 peers in the prestigious 2013 Sandra K. Abell Institute for Doctoral Students titled “Connecting Research to Policy and Practice.” Held in Washington, DC, the institute includes discussions of research, peer group meetings and seminars with established scholars. Here, Douglass will begin developing a research proposal for presentation at an international conference.
Fortunately for tomorrow’s elementary students, Douglass never lost her childhood love of science. Although her days of stealth-teaching are over, the solid research skills she is honing at CU Denver are preparing her to effect changes on a much more open stage: in the wider arena of policy where it intersects with practice.