The rows upon rows of cardboard boxes in this sprawling warehouse space held soil samples, chicken eggs, miniature planets and a wealth of other teaching materials.
Less than a week before the start of Cherry Creek Schools’ traditional school calendar, thousands of boxes uniformly colored in a black-and-white speckled pattern took up about 1/5th of the nearly 30,000 square feet of storage space at the district’s warehouse facility off of Pitkin Street. But the boxes filled with teaching kits for the Full Option Science System (FOSS) curriculum didn’t have long to gather dust. Before classes started on Aug. 18, these science kits would arrive at more than 40 elementary schools across the district.
“Everything will be put on palettes, put into the loading area, go out on one of delivery trucks and dropped off at a school,” said John Eyolfson, K-12 science coordinator for the district. “The teachers will use the materials for approximately nine weeks. The trucks will go back and pick them up, and we’ll get the materials ready for another use.”
For the past five years, Eyolfson has been a key organizer in implementing the FOSS system, a curriculum developed at the University of California at Berkeley that emphasizes an immediate and tactile approach to learning science. Through interactive experiments and firsthand experience, the system seeks to establish a strong core of science learning for every K-5 student in the district.
But integrating the FOSS system hasn’t been simple. Because of the nature of the teaching philosophy and its materials, Eyolfson and his peers have had to find a way to store, deliver and refurbish science kits that include dirt, beakers and even living materials like guppies and earthworms.
Four years ago, he worked with district administrators and staff at the district’s warehouse and distribution facility to find a novel solution to some of those challenges. The building in Aurora now hosts more than 3,000 boxes filled with FOSS kits when they’re not in use at schools. A crew of two science resource specialists work throughout the year to rebuild and refurbish FOSS materials after they’ve been used in classrooms. The second week of August was an especially busy time for the pair, as they worked to prep materials for about four dozen buildings.
“We check all of the equipment that’s supposed to be in one of those boxes,” said Mary Brunetti, who works along with Darlene Mauro in rebuilding the FOSS kits. “We look for anything that’s missing, anything that’s broken, anything that needs to be cleaned, anything that needs to be replaced. We go through and make sure that all of those pieces are there so the next teacher has what they need.”
It’s an involved and continuous process, one that repeats in nine-week cycles as teachers make their way through specific lessons. Having an operations base at the warehouse in Aurora has made that process much easier.
Eyolfson and other district officials worked closely with Warehouse Manager Todd Zielke to fit in the FOSS work seamlessly with the rest of the operation. The building serves as warehouse for supplies for schools across the district, as well as an intradistrict mail center and a distribution center.
But Zielke said fitting the FOSS system into the bigger dynamic of the warehouse was much more straightforward than they first anticipated.
“It’s going very well … We have a great crew,” Zielke said, pointing to the hard work of the warehouse’s 11 other employees. Brunetti and Mauro have found a seamless role among the facility’s dedicated staff. “We know what’s being picked up and what’s being delivered. We have a complete list. That helps communication.”
That kind of smooth operation serves a larger and more important purpose: to offer elementary school students from across the district a new way to learn science. That mission starts with the black-and-white boxes that fill the towering shelves in this nondescript warehouse space in the heart of the Cherry Creek School District.
For more information about the FOSS program and teacher training, click here.
-- Posted Aug. 14, 2014