Teaching science for social change
Salina Gray, PhD ’14, remembers a moment, roller-skating down the sidewalk at 9 years old, when she told a friend: “I’m going to be a teacher so I can save the world.”
Flash forward about 30 years, and Gray—by then a fifth-grade teacher in Los Angeles—felt another lightning strike of intuition, sitting in a darkened theater watching I Am Legend. Her arms prickled with goosebumps as the movie hero Will Smith pulled on his lab coat, a Black scientist about to rescue humanity. “I remember looking around the theater, trying to see if there were any Black youth in the audience,” says Gray. “I knew I had to do something to make sure there are more Black scientists.”
She applied to a doctoral program in science education at Stanford Graduate School of Education and was astonished to be accepted on her first try. Together with her then 13-year-old son, they packed up to move from L.A. to the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a drive she’ll make again for the 2021 GSE Alumni Excellence in Education Award ceremony on October 24, where she’ll be honored for her contributions to supporting underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
Gray, together with Alexis Patterson, PhD ’15, created the (W)holistic Science Pedagogy in 2018, which right in the name captures their intention: teaching the whole student. As a certified yoga instructor and trauma-informed teacher at Mountain View Middle School near Riverside, Calif., Gray focuses first on the social-emotional needs of her students and frames curriculum through a lens of social justice. “The more healed I’ve become, the better teacher I’ve become,” she says.