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Kaiser sixth-graders losing science time

Union request to equalize teaching schedules brings changes to the students' longtime enrichment program.

December 18, 2013|By Hannah Fry

For Nathan Peters, a Kaiser Elementary School sixth-grader, science is more than just a class he attends each day.

The specialized curriculum at his school provides him the opportunity to do things like build a solar oven and cook hot dogs and s'mores with his friends.

"I really want that experience to happen," he said to trustees during a recent school board meeting. "I want to save our school science."

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While Kaiser students still learn science, they have lost instructional time.

For years, Kaiser sixth-graders have received 90 minutes of science instruction a week, including 30 minutes of an "enrichment program," which supplements the school district's core science curriculum to provide students with a deeper understanding of the subject.

In an effort to equalize the science teachers' workload across the district at the behest of the union, science specialist Phil Schinhofen has been prohibited from teaching as usual the sixth-grade enrichment program this year. Parents and students voiced their concerns about the elimination of the extra instructional time during a Newport-Mesa Unified board meeting last week.

Kaiser is the only elementary school in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District that has a science enrichment program.

"This is not the time to reduce science instruction," Schinhofen said. "This is the age when you hook students and get them interested in science."

The alteration to Kaiser's program comes as Newport-Mesa teachers begin preparing for the Next Generation Science Standards, which much like Common Core will increase the rigor and depth of science curriculum districtwide, proponents say. 

The reason the enrichment program exists is because it is funded by the Kaiser Woodland Schools Foundation, begun by local parents.

But the financial help can become complicated. A teacher funded by the foundation can only teach the enrichment program and is prohibited by district policy from teaching the core curriculum.

However, if the district funds the teacher, he or she can teach both.

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