Grantee Corner  |  San Diego Unified School District



Two students point at snails in a terrarium
Valencia Park STEAM Magnet School students observe snails in their group’s terrarium

Two female students use pieces of wood to build a crane lift
Washington STEAM Magnet School students work together to design a hydraulic crane lift during a STEAM club challenge

Three female students wear gloves and use magnifying glasses
Washington STEAM Magnet School students explore the eating habits of owls, the ecosystems they inhabit, and the relationships between the two

Two female teachers stand in front of a table with boxes and flowers
Valencia Park STEAM Magnet School and Jefferson IB STEAM Magnet School teachers collaborate during STEAM professional development

Two students stand at a table with creations of noodles and marshmallows
Franklin STEAM Magnet School students become design engineers, accepting the challenge to build the highest towers possible with spaghetti noodles and marshmallows

Three students build a pyramid using folded blue index cards
Franklin STEAM Magnet School students design and construct a stable structure using index cards and masking tape

Two male students cut up a cardboard box
Jefferson IB STEAM Magnet School students engage in the design process to create a "flying train" from a shoe box

A male student displays his artwork - a series of four drawings on black paper
Jefferson IB STEAM Magnet School student showcases his work with Art Reach, a program that provides teaching artists who help students find their artistic voices

Headshot of Maria Nichols
Maria Nichols, SDUSD Project Director

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), California’s second largest district, covers 208 square miles and has 226 educational facilities that serve more than 132,000 students in preschool through 12th grade. The SDUSD student population is extremely diverse, representing more than 15 ethnic groups and speaking more than 60 languages.

SDUSD strives to ensure that all students graduate with the skills, motivation, curiosity, and resilience to succeed in their choice of college and career. With this in mind, SDUSD offers a range of magnet programs that offer K-12 pathways in creative, visual, and performing arts; International Baccalaureate (IB) and global citizenship; language enrichment and immersion; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).

SDUSD’s 2013 Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant is developing four elementary STEAM magnet sites. These sites strengthen existing STEM and STEAM pathways, ensuring that students across the district have access to innovative, inquiry-based STEAM instruction throughout their educational careers. The four schools offer interdisciplinary STEAM units that explore real-world issues through inquiry and the design process. They also develop a STEAM mind-set that encourages a qualitatively different way of looking at the world.

Franklin STEAM Magnet School serves 263 students and is creating an engineering room to support science and engineering interdisciplinary units. The school is also expanding the site’s gardens.

Jefferson IB STEAM Magnet School serves 360 students. Teachers at this authorized IB school are adding a curricular emphasis on STEAM. Their efforts are supported by The Friends of Jefferson, a nonprofit organization of parents and community members that is dedicated to supporting the school through volunteerism, fundraising, and community outreach.

Valencia Park STEAM Magnet School serves 520 students. Formerly a dance and drama magnet, Valencia Park has broadened its theme to align with the STEM and STEAM focus within its SDUSD cluster. Partnerships include the Valencia Park Foundation, the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and the San Diego Lion’s Club.

Washington STEAM Magnet School, located in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, has 334 students who benefit from the participation of the Little Italy Association, which integrates Italian culture through language learning, bocce clubs, and community festivals. Washington’s many additional partners include the Italian Embassy, The Children’s Museum, 3 R’s Robotics, and the Washington Elementary Foundation.

Teachers from all four sites have attended a range of MSAP-funded professional development. Opportunities include national conferences and local STEAM events coordinated by STE[+a]M Connect, a network of higher education, community, and business entities committed to developing STEAM capabilities in San Diego. Teachers have also learned about implementing the Next Generation Science Standards and explored Project Lead the Way.

Maria Nichols, Director of School Innovations, has 27 years of experience with SDUSD. She collaborates with district and school leaders to design innovative teaching and learning experiences for students and teachers. Ms. Nichols is the author of several books and articles focusing on the development of thoughtful curriculum and instruction.

See MSAP Grantees Page