WATSONVILLE — Every semester, Amesti Elementary School science teacher Rachel Hitchcock asks her students to draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like.
When Hitchcock first started teaching, most of the drawings were of Einstein-looking people: male, with messy hair and wearing a lab coat. But recently, the scientists have started to look a lot like the students themselves.
“I’ve always wanted children to know that science is for everyone,” Hitchcock said. “I think we’re finally reaching a point where we’re getting them both more competent and excited about it.”
Last week, Hitchcock was bestowed a special award by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for her efforts in education. Hitchcock has been participating in the aquarium’s teaching programs for the past five years and has implemented many of her new skills into the classroom.
For example, this year, Hitchcock organized a tech-based project where her students use an app called Clean Swell (created by the Ocean Conservancy) to collect data about the health of Amesti’s schoolyard.
“They make observations, define problems and then we ask them, ‘What can we do about this?’” Hitchcock said. “It’s a hands-on experience.”
Monterey Bay Aquarium has been working side-by-side with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District over the years, and through this partnership local teachers such as Hitchcock have participated in the institute’s teacher programs. The programs cover everything from technology to environmental literacy.
“The aquarium has pretty much adopted us,” Hitchcock said. “We’re learning how to improve teaching science at the elementary level — which can be scary for some. It’s been a great experience. ”
Joey Scott, teacher programs supervisor at the aquarium, said she was delighted to be honoring Hitchcock, who Scott has worked with on certain projects.
“Rachel is always enthusiastic about improving and learning more about education,” Scott said. “She is a true advocate for her students. It’s teachers like Rachel who we want to support in any way we can.”
On Dec. 5, Julie Packard, executive director of the aquarium’s Board of Trustees, presented Hitchcock with the award at a special ceremony in Monterey.
“I was stunned, and pretty blown away to receive this honor,” Hitchcock said. “As teachers we don’t often experience moments like that. It’s really invigorated and inspired me to keep growing as a teacher.”