$250,000 in matching funds to help San Diego teachers pay for classroom projects

Kristina Hereford Watkins teaches a blend of science in her eighth grade class at Lemon Grove Academy. It includes everything from physics and human anatomy to engineering and technology.

Last year, she was able to find funding for six virtual reality headsets to help her students with critical thinking, collaboration, and coordination.

“Scientists, engineers, and the military are using virtual reality and headsets to practice dissections using cadavers and building machines,” Hereford Watkins told KPBS News. “If a student can have those opportunities earlier (in life), what if that can help them pursue a possibility in the future?” she said.

The virtual reality equipment costs $5,000. Hereford Watkins started a crowdfunding campaign to raise half the money. San Diego Gas and Electric shareholders matched the amount to complete the purchase.

This is the fifth year that SDG&E is partnering with the nonprofit platform DonorsChoose, to help teachers who post their projects online and raise donations to fund them. The program provides matching dollars for classroom projects that supplement learning with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) projects, as well as racial equity and inclusion curriculum.

It targets projects like those at Lemon Grove Academy, a campus in a neighborhood with many children who come from marginalized communities.

Xavier Castellano, 13, uses a virtual reality headset in his science class at Lemon Grove Academy, Lemon Grove, Calif., November 7, 2022.

“We consistently hear from students that they want to see more diverse perspectives and examples of positive contributions — from their cultures and others — in their classrooms and curriculum. Students want to be seen and understood as they seek to see and understand others,” said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold.

“When our teachers can add some extra pieces, I say the ‘sprinkles’ that help keep our children engaged and keep them loving school. So, this is extremely helpful because it provides resources,” said Tamara Muhammad, principal at Lemon Grove Academy.

The funding comes at a critical time in education, when school districts are trying to rebuild and recapture momentum following the COVID-19 shutdowns of the past couple of years.

“Our very first thing was attending to their social-emotional awareness. We made sure they knew they belonged here and everything was going to be OK,” Muhammad said.

Aiya Henderson, 13, is an eighth grade science student at Lemon Grove Academy. She said, “I want to be a meteorologist and maybe experience the weather through the metaverse.”

The matching dollars program is open to teachers at schools in the SDG&E service area in Orange and San Diego counties. There is $250,000 available and applications will be taken until the money is gone.

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