EnCorps spoke with Danielle Martin, a San Francisco Bay Area EnCorps STEM Teaching Fellow who teaches CTE engineering, Makerspace Basics, and BUILD Entreprenuership at East Palo Alto Academy High School. Danielle recalls feeling “bad at math and science” in her own school experience, but finding her tribe of “geeks” in an advanced leadership middle school classroom where she learned C++ and how to meditate. She says that her middle school teacher and teaching role model, Miss Czerwiec, “nurtured an island of lost toys” – which she hopes to do for her students.
Danielle’s background includes research with Intel, MIT Media Lab, and MAKE Media, urban planning, media production, and co-creating curriculum then publishing a book to integrate digital fabrication in K-12 learning. In the maker community, such as the Nation of Makers and Maker Ed, she found solidarity with learners like herself – told they weren’t good at STEM but interested in building anyways. She is tasked at her current school with creating a CTE pathway to bring some of her formerly after-school curriculum into the school day as a STEAM career building strategy.
East Palo Alto Academy High School is made up of 88% students from low income families. She finds that otherwise disengaged youth often get excited as students in a hands-on maker environment led by their interests. Two years ago, she returned to direct instruction in a formal classroom, aided by a group of 6-8th grade students in a makerspace elective. In 2019, she then migrated up to the public charter high school in the same community, to build workforce pathways through engineering. The students in her middle school Tech Team peer leader group and now the EPAA Bulldog Dream Team, are often struggling in their math and science classes but become innovators in design processes and leaders while they are technical skill building with every creation in the makerspace. Danielle is motivated to hook the most hard-to-reach students, by peaking their curiosity about new tools and building their confidence through learning in the community.
She says, “The best way I know how, is to show up, build my own skills, then (sometimes loudly) always express my joy.”