Submission By: Alia Malik, education reporter from San Antonio Express-News

Something electric blue and mysterious bubbled and foamed in a tub on a cafeteria table Thursday night at Anson Jones Middle School, catching the eyes of more than 100 students and parents as they passed by. Two boys led the activity, explaining that they’d created “elephant toothpaste.”

“It teaches people about chemical reactions,” said Daniel Gomez, 14, an eighth grader. “Gas is formed when you mix it together.”

No one was allowed to call it a demonstration. It was instead a STEMonstration, one of several at the school’s Spooky STEM Family Fair, playing off the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

The six people who planned the event were not teachers or administrators. They were students who’d been elected “chief science officers” at Jones. About 100 middle and high school students in San Antonio and Houston have that title, responsible for advancing science, math and technology education in their schools and communities.

Chief science officers have been helping make the subjects accessible and interesting to their fellow students in other states and in Kenya, Kuwait, Mexico and Colombia, but not in Texas until last school year, when the Intercultural Development Research Association, based in San Antonio, started a pilot program here. IDRA trains the students in leadership and helps them develop action plans to bring science-related projects to their schools and neighborhoods.

The national nonprofit think tank and advocacy organization is focused on equity, and its leaders see math and science education as an equity issue. Students from parts of the city where families earn less and few adults have been to college aren’t as exposed to professionals in advanced science, technology or engineering, but jobs in those industries are often tickets out of poverty. And parents who haven’t been to college might not know to push their children toward high school Algebra 2, chemistry, physics or other math and science courses that four-year universities require, said Celina Moreno, president and CEO of IDRA. As a result, many educators have become evangelists for STEM in recent years, touting the financial security and national demand for workers in those fields. But anyone who’s been a teenager knows pushing by adults can cause an equal and opposite reaction. “Very seldom is it centered on student voice,” said Stephanie Garcia, education associate at IDRA and the adult leading the chief science officer program in Texas. “Students leading the way, and setting that example for their peers and their communities, is so much more impactful.” Most of the chief science officers are Hispanic, and half are girls, Garcia said.

At Jones, about 90 percent of students come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for school meal subsidies. Ninety-one percent of its enrollment is Hispanic. Northside Independent School District will roll out its first-ever middle school magnet program there next year, said Barry Perez, school district spokesman. It will focus on STEM, and Jones feeds into Jay High School, which has a science and engineering academy. The Afterschool Centers on Education club at Jones elected a boy and a girl from each grade to be their chief science officers. Emily Martinez, 12, a seventh grader known to be shy, said the leadership training brought her out of her shell. Now she’s interested in a business or marketing career. Emily was a chief science officer last year, too, when IDRA was piloting the program. She and others did the elephant toothpaste demonstration at Passmore Elementary down the street, and she said it went over better than an adult-led activity would have. “We got their attention,” Emily said. “We have more of a connection with them.”It was the students’ idea to give the STEM fair at Jones a Halloween theme and to have participants punch holes in a sheet of paper for every STEMonstration they visited.

Three hole punches could be redeemed for a frozen banana covered in chocolate chips or pudding with “worms” made out of Lucas Salsagheti, all prepared by the school’s culinary club. Students interested in science and technology could make the world a better place, for others and themselves, Emily said. “There’s not too many people who have a good future,” she said. “If we give this to them, this chance, we can change everything.” Alia Malik covers school districts and the University of Texas at San Antonio in the Bexar County area.

Alia Malik is an education reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. She covers several local school districts, community colleges and education trends. Before joining the Express-News in 2013, she worked for a daily newspaper in Connecticut, where she covered the city of Naugatuck and some of the fallout from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The daughter of a New Englander and a Bangladeshi immigrant, Alia grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and graduated from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. A former Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, she speaks and writes fluently in Spanish.

Malik, A. (2019, October 26). In new San Antonio science and tech program, students call the shots. Retrieved from

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