Legacy Charter School
My name is Sheila E. Foster and I've been an educator for the past 13 years. I've had experience teaching in CPS, a private school and now, a charter school. The benefits of serving in each system has greatly impacted my professional growth because I intentionally take the best of what each atmosphere taught me to become a transformative teacher. Prior to teaching, I grew up on the westside and attended my neighborhood CPS school from preschool through second grade. I transitioned to a private school, Providence St. Mel, from third through twelfth grades. It was during my time at PSM that I was afforded the opportunity to travel throughout the USA and abroad to experience other education systems. The SOAL program was the vehicle that deepened my knowledge of being globally competitive and more prepared for what college life would be like. The summer after my freshman year in high school, I applied to Brown University's accelerated summer program to study Genetic Engineering. The following summer, I was granted scholarships and accepted into Oxford University's Oxbridge Program where I studied Psychology as my major and Music as my minor. Those experiences helped shaped my foundation as an inspiring educator because I was empowered to know that when given the opportunity, I could have an equitable experience that could change the trajectory of my life. Currently, I have created an opportunity for scholars in underserved communities to receive high quality STEM instruction, specifically robotics, at no cost to families. This is a direct reflection of my life as a scholar on Chicago's westside many years ago. I am dedicated to creating opportunities for scholars to have what may seem inaccessible without money and chance. In these spaces, scholars will be able to explore new curriculum and realize new depths of their ability that will surely empower them to take more ownership of their learning now and in the future!
My equity challenge and how I work on it
After attending a professional development in Finland and Estonia in April 2019, I realized that scholars as early as first grade are introduced to gaming, coding, and robotics in their general curriculum. This impressive integration impacts math and science scores that have resulted in the Finnish school system having some of the best scores worldwide. I believed that this same opportunity could work on the westside of Chicago, if resources were available. My mission to create an equitable in my neighborhood influenced me to start a robotics club at Legacy Charter School for grades 2-4. My school received a grant from Invest For Kids, which funded the costs of robotics kits, laptops, and more to establish a new after school club. I designed the club to provide foundational skills in robotics for 8 sessions per grade level for 1 hour each. The scholars' interests in how the evolution of robots impacts our daily lives drove powerful discussions and research started by these refined thinkers! It was amazing to witness. Naturally, I wanted to start a robotics summer camp to reach more scholars, but the pandemic prevented that from happening. Then, the idea of a virtual robotics club came to life! This summer, a few of my scholars from Legacy have had the chance to create robots with scholars in Ghana, thanks to a new partnership I established. I shipped a kit to Ghana early July 2020 and connected with a teacher who has a 6 year old son, Jesse. She welcomed another 7 year old, Ephraim, who joined my scholars and me on Zoom for one hour and 30 minutes a day for a week. This was a sight to see! Scholars not only received guidance from me, but they collaborated with other scholars across the world to do projects that piqued their interest for more robotics challenges! It was wonderful to see student agency happening despite the pandemic and any other barriers.
Quote/motto or one piece of advice for a teacher who is thinking about doing this work
My advice for any teacher would be to not limit yourself to only being a classroom teacher. While that is a huge accomplishment, keep stretching yourself to learn more! GO FOR IT! Never allow fear to stop you from taking a chance on learning new things to improve your practice because what you choose to do next will transform more lives!
Resources used to drive equity work
The TedTalk by Sugata Mitra (The Hole in the Wall Project) inspired me to create a partnership abroad to impact more lives in deprived areas. He stated, "If children have interest, then education happens!" His projects led to the creation of self-organized learning environments where students collaborated and problem solved with little facilitation from teachers. This is exactly what I've decided to do with scholars and robotics; once I provide the materials, I facilitate by asking questions to help scholars think critically to solve complex issues on their own.