Editor's note: El Cerrito Patch reader and contributor Betty Buginas wrote this in response to a request by the owners of the former Windrush School site. See "Windrush Site Owners Seek Public Input" for more information.
The Chung Mei Home for Learning in the not-too-distant future:
During the school day, students, their teachers and parent chaperones visit the home’s exhibits, try hands-on activities, and attend workshops in science, math, and local history.
Many of the classes arrive by foot from nearby schools like Portola Middle School, others by BART and bus through the nearby transit hub at Del Norte BART.
They learn about the history of California by focusing on what happened right where they stand, from how the land looked before people arrived, through its first human residents, its days as part of Rancho San Pablo, the opening of the Chung Mei home, of shipyard workers and removal to internment camps during World War II, the evolution of transportation, and growth of local industries such as farming, nurseries, dairies, and rock quarries.
The visitors try their hand at math and science activities designed by local teachers and community members, drawing on the population of a community rich in scientists, science educators, history buffs, and its proximity to UC Berkeley and science and history museums.
Activities extend outside the building, with outdoor exhibits and activities, and a group heading off on a walking tour of local sites of historical significance.
After school hours, teams of teachers meet for a professional development workshop, to collaborate on an upcoming exhibit, or plan a workshop they will lead for other educators. Perhaps they are joined by local residents with expertise in science, math, or history. In another room, middle and high school students are training for their role as weekend and afternoon docents, and in another adults from the community for serving as docents during the school-day field trips.
The center has become a hub of learning with a place for everyone, from preschool visitors to retired residents who serve as docents and perhaps have helped develop exhibits or donated items for display.
For students, it is a place where they can progress from being a young visitor to someone who volunteers to prepare materials and design exhibits and activities or to help young visitors.
Teachers have a close and affordable place to bring their classes to learn history through the lens of their own community and try math and science activities that are updated and rotated to keep them fresh. Perhaps they can check out teaching kits to take back to their classroom or leave with printed material to continue history, science, or math activities at their school. They visit the museum’s website frequently to look for and contribute innovative teaching ideas. The teachers grow professionally by experiencing the museum with their students as well as by attending workshops during the summer, after school hour or on weekends, and also by having an opportunity to propose, design, and execute exhibits and classes for students and colleagues. They draw upon the rich knowledge and experiences of local residents and the perspective of older students as they work side by side in their design work.
Community residents with expertise in history, math, or science – or simply people who have the time and are willing to learn - find that the contributions they have to offer are warmly welcomed.
Parents have the opportunity to visit the museum with their young children or with field trip groups and to take workshops on how to help their children learn. Based on their increasing knowledge, they demand more of their local schools.
The museum’s work is intertwined with the local school district, enriching the lives of thousands of students through direct experience as well as through the improved skills and enthusiasm of their teachers and parents. But it remains an independent force as well, with its own voice in improving education in the community, free of the constraints of a large public agency.
Betty Buginas is an El Cerrito resident, West Contra Costa Unified School District teacher, and Patch contributor. This is a copy of an email she sent to the new owners of the Windrush/Chung Mei site in response to a request on Patch for suggestions on how to use the facility to enhance local education.