Top of Page

Inside CPS

News and Stories from across the District

Preparing Students for Tomorrow’s STEM Careers

02 April 2024

By Julio Alvarez, Assistant Principal at Jungman STEM Magnet Elementary School

Jungman AP

Most people remember their first day of a new job, but my first day as an assistant principal at Jungman was truly something I will never forget. On that exact day, we held a press conference to announce that we were one of three schools to receive part of a $15 million federal grant to accelerate our school’s STEM programming. 

In a way, I felt like I had an ideal background to contribute to this effort. When I started college at the University of Illinois-Chicago, I thought I wanted to pursue engineering. After successfully completing my initial sequence of math courses, one of my professors asked me if I would tutor students who were following in my footsteps. 

I really enjoyed that experience, so I began to wonder if I should pursue education instead of engineering. I ended up getting my degree in elementary education, and my first role in CPS was teaching math to middle school students at a school only a few miles away from Jungman. 

From there, I moved back and forth between teaching in the classroom and taking on roles in central office helping teachers master new math curricula. There were parts of both of these roles that I enjoyed, and I eventually realized that pursuing a role in school administration would combine everything I liked. 

Serving as an assistant principal truly is a sweet spot for me. You get to work directly with students and families just as if you were a classroom teacher. But you also get to work on the overall education landscape at your school through partnering with your teachers. When I’m discussing best practices for curriculum with a group of Jungman teachers, it reminds me of working in central office. 

I take an inquiry-based approach to leadership. This means that I am not approaching problems believing that I already have all of the answers or solutions. Instead, I ask a lot of questions to ensure that the perspectives of my stakeholders are guiding our path forward. As a school leader, having preconceived notions about how your school should run can be a trap at times. 

This directly ties to our focus at Jungman on distributed leadership. When you only follow your pre-established viewpoint as a leader, you often feel like you have to micromanage everything. But that isn’t sustainable. Developing the capacity of other leaders can only help you in the long run. 

One of our middle school science teachers has a saying that I always remember. Everyone knows the common saying “the sky is the limit,” but this teacher instead tells students: “The sky is not the limit. Go beyond that.” This directly ties in with our school’s focus on STEM programming. We are developing our students’ creativity so they can be critical thinkers and prepared for careers that do not even exist right now. 

A key component of our school’s programming that reflects this core value is offering elective classes, such as robotics, performing arts, and printmaking, that give students choices of what they would like to learn. Even though we are a small school, we strategically align our resources to give our students opportunities that might be offered automatically in larger schools. 

And our efforts have certainly paid off. Just this year, Jungman was awarded the National Magnet School of Excellence award. We were the only school in CPS and Illinois to receive this award. It affirms all of our hard work. 

I feel blessed to work at Jungman because every member of this community is working together to put our students first. We know that the sky is not the limit for them. We know they can go beyond that. 

Related Stories

17 May 2024

Take Five with Laura Godwin: Literacy Interventionist and Climate & Culture Lead at Dore Elementary

Ms. Godwin is known to be an asset in creating a positive and engaging learning environment, and makes it a point to ensure that the students and staff around her feel happy.

16 May 2024

Finding the Perfect Role as a STEM Specialist

By Ms. LaTina Taylor, STEM Technology Specialist at Langston Hughes STEM Elementary School 

16 May 2024

Getting to Know One of Our District’s Yale National Fellows

Mr. Barr believes an educator's craft is a form of artistry. 

10 May 2024

Take Five with Danielle Cain: Teacher at William H. Brown STEM Magnet School

Mrs. Cain loves helping students make connections between classroom instruction and their own lives.