Kids in Academy classroom

With the winter holidays upon us, many people like to take a moment to reflect on the past year, their accomplishments, their goals for the future, and their wishes for a better world.

Here’s my holiday wish: I would like every child in the Bay Area to have an amazing, life-changing educational experience at the California Academy of Sciences. Every single child. No matter what their background, economic status, cultural background, or education level.

Why is this so important?

More than any other region in the world, the Bay Area’s economy depends on excellence and innovation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. But over the last decade, California’s students have lagged significantly behind national standards in these areas. Our high school graduation rate is just 78% and, of those, only 48% meet mathematics achievement standards for “college readiness.”

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has even greater challenges. It serves 56,000 students, from homes that speak 44 different languages, where ~60% come from low-income homes—factors that present enormous challenges to our schools.

A 2014-15 assessment shows that less than half of our students are proficient in math. And another recent study showed that ~70% of our K-5 teachers taught science for only one hour—or less—per week. Clearly, this is not enough time to teach science or nurture the excitement of scientific discovery for our children.

How will the Academy respond?

I believe that museums—especially the Academy—can help. As the largest science museum, and the largest informal educator, in this part of the world, we have the ability to make a real difference.

So, starting next year, our Trustees and I are committing the California Academy of Sciences to opening its doors even wider, especially to children, so that they can all benefit from an inspiring visit, increased scientific knowledge, and the economic and civic opportunities that follow.

If there’s a barrier to a child coming to the Academy—whether it’s cost, transportation, or role models—I want to remove it. Period. I believe that lowering these barriers is the right thing to do as a leading institution and a good citizen of the Bay Area community.

The Academy cannot solve this problem alone. But we can be part of the solution through an initiative called Academy for All, a suite of programs serving over 200,000 children and their families annually through free and low-cost programs—including free admission days, free field trips, and special programs targeting youth traditionally under-represented in science fields.

We are eager to get moving on this. In fact, this December, we are looking to raise funds to provide free field trips to the Academy for an additional 5,000 children.

Your tax-deductible contribution to this effort would be most welcome. It could help us make a real difference in the life of a child.

And thanks to the Jacques M. Littlefield Foundation, any gift will have twice the impact. All donations made before January 1, 2016 will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $100,000.

With your help, the Academy can open its doors to all children, no matter their background. We believe that lowering the barriers to entry—cost, access, cultural, and educational—creates an Academy for All. And this, in turn, increases their exposure to STEM fields and increases the likelihood that they will be able to contribute to the Bay Area’s thriving economy and intellectual life.

Thank you for supporting the Academy and our mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth. And best wishes to you and your families during this holiday season.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments—you can find me on Twitter (@GlobalEcoGuy) or on Facebook.

Best Wishes, Jon

Dr. Jonathan Foley

Jon Foley headshot

An expert in ecosystem science and sustainability, Dr. Foley is steering the Academy through an exciting chapter in its 160-year history, leading its efforts to explore and explain the natural world while addressing critical sustainability challenges. Read his full bio.

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