Press Archive

STEP Teachers Help Sweetwater School District Win $4 Million Education Grant

Published 11/05/1996

For more information, contact:

Ann Redelfs, SDSC
619-534-5032/5113 (fax)

Jim Halpin, Sweetwater School District
619-585-6281; fax 619-426-5349

San Diego, CA -- Thanks in part to the efforts of high school science teachers who participated in the Supercomputing Teacher Enhancement Program (STEP) at SDSC and UCSD, the Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County was recently awarded $4 million from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for the five-year Project ACT Now.

To enhance classroom instruction and expand career horizons for students, Project ACT Now is attempting to ensure equitable access for all students to technology-enriched learning, infuse technology throughout the curriculum, and develop and support a faculty of "21st Century Teachers." Roughly three-quarters of all faculty -- 800 teachers -- in the Sweetwater district will ultimately receive training to integrate technology into the curriculum.

"We're looking at a very energized community," said Jim Halpin, coordinator of educational technology for the district. "Using SDSC as a partner showed we were serious in taking advantage of local resources. And as in STEP, we are looking at staff development, on a massive scale, and curriculum development by letting teachers focus on areas they're interested in."

Another key player was Judy Klos from the district's grant office. Klos attended a STEP in-service workshop for administrators during STEP's first year, along with many other district personnel.

Funded as part of DOE's Challenge Grant for Technology in Education, Project ACT Now has already received the first year's installment of just over $1 million.

ACT Now partners are meeting to design new technology-based classroom curriculum components and teacher training units that emphasize new approaches to learning with technology. The overall goal is to prepare students, teachers, and the community to compete in the information and technology age.

"STEP teachers can help us with designing a teacher-training pipeline, with creating technology-related curriculum elements for science subjects, with mentoring, and other activities," Halpin said.

In STEP, participating teachers often invited principals and administrators to attend training sessions and in-service workshops. They also pushed to have all district principals and district administrators attend and participate in Supercomputing '95, held in San Diego.

"I'd like to take credit, but I can't," said Steve Wavra, a biology teacher at Southwest High School. "However, the STEP program has had a positive impact on administrators and the district's thinking in these areas over the years, and I see this grant as an outgrowth of the influence STEP and SDSC have had on the educational community in general and the Sweetwater District specifically."

Five teachers from three high schools in the Sweetwater District benefitted from the knowledge, training, and enthusiasm generated as part of STEP. These same teachers also helped increase the technological awareness within the district, according to Wavra. "We have been lobbying, persuading, pushing, training, threatening, and educating anyone and everyone who would listen regarding the need for technology in the curriculum and classroom," he said.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, STEP was established by Kris Stewart, SDSC's curriculum coordinator and associate professor of mathematical sciences at San Diego State University, to provide 40 teachers from 20 high schools in the San Diego area with the opportunity to participate in a four-year program.

As a long-term program consisting of weekend meetings throughout the school years and summer workshops, STEP enabled the participants to develop and adopt the computational skills to which they were introduced. STEP is now coordinated by Don Anderson, UCSD professor of computer science and engineering.

SDSC, a national laboratory for computational science and engineering, is sponsored by NSF, other federal agencies, the State and University of California, and private organizations; is affiliated with the University of California, San Diego; and is administered by General Atomics. For more information, see or contact Ann Redelfs, SDSC,, 619-534-5032.