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Teacher promotes science and college

Erin Huizinga, headshot.
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Erin Huizinga
Erin Huizinga

Erin Huizinga knows she has about 7 minutes to explain complicated scientific concepts before the teenagers in her class stop paying attention.

That’s why Huizinga gets her students actually doing science — conducting experiments, making posters and explaining concepts in their own words — rather than just listening to her lecture. She wants them to actually like biology and chemistry, unlike so many adults who started hating science sometime in adolescence.

“You’d better be shifting gears,” said Huizinga, a teacher at Pacifica High School in Oxnard, where nearly half the students come from low-income families. “The more you do things that aren’t lecture, that aren’t book work, the more you get kids involved in science.”

Huizinga teaches in Pacifica’s Health Academy, where students prepare for careers in health — another way to make science relevant to them.

But Huizinga has another goal beyond getting her students excited about science. She wants them to go to college.

Every day, her students look straight at a poster asking them, “So what are you doing with your life?”

Huizinga has a suggestion: Think beyond graduating from high school, the goal many have set for themselves.

“That’s the mentality that needs to be changed,” she said.

So she makes sure they’ve taken the classes they need to apply to a University of California or California State University campus — including hanging a poster outlining the admission requirements in her room. And she takes on the role a lot of parents can’t because they haven’t gone to college themselves — walking her students through the sometimes-daunting process of applying for college, from finding a good fit to filling out financial aid forms.

“To me, teaching isn’t just delivering information,” she said. “They don’t understand their own potential. Then they get a glimpse of it and realize, ‘I can do this.’ ”

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