San Francisco Empowering Middle-Schoolers to Educate on Earthquake Preparedness

San Francisco School District enhances its science curriculum and informs the public.

by Jim McKay / September 28, 2018

The San Francisco Unified School District is updating its science standards and educating thousands of middle school students and their families on earthquake preparedness in the process.

The district has developed an earthquake curriculum for seventh-graders that fulfills recent state science standards and is poised to educate tens of thousands in the coming decades. The San Francisco Bay Area is at risk for a major earthquake within the next 30 years.

The district partnered with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) in developing the curriculum.

“We are looking for equitability in our outreach and preparation and we are doing a reach that gets to everyone,” said San Francisco DEM Executive Director, Mary Ellen Carroll. “I don’t know of a more equitable approach than to hit every single child in the seventh grade of the San Francisco Unified School District.”

 She said the preparedness curriculum includes a requirement that students take home what they learn and share with the family. She said that translates into 800,000 people receiving the information over a 20-year period.

The seventh-graders will be given both a group project and an individual assignment, both due at the end of a quarter semester for one unit of credit. The curriculum starts this school year.

The curriculum launches with a real-world problem and students need to gather scientific information to be able to solve the problem.

In this case, the problem is that a local music company wants to develop a new venue but is wary of the effects of a potential earthquake, having witnessed the great Loma Prieta quake in 1989 and needs a recommendation on where to build the new building.

“The students have to learn a lot of different information to inform their recommendations this this company and the recommendation needs to take into consideration the soil type and rock strata for different parts of the Bay Area and the impacts they will have in case of an earthquake,” said Sarah Delaney, science supervisor for the San Francisco Unified School District Division of Curriculum and Instruction.

The students gather that and other information, such as the distance from plate boundaries from infrastructure like public transportation, hospitals, freeways, and present a group finding as far as where the venue should be.

The individual assignment tasks each student with designing earthquake mitigation plans for the venue, considering that it will house a restaurant, office spaces and hold a thousand people at a time.

When the district first began developing plans for the curriculum, they had students designing a building. Then they partnered with DEM and that changed things. “They said it was way too complex and that we were simplifying a lot of the [earthquake] science,” Delaney said. “They gave us a lot of feedback and we might adjust the project.”

DEM also made available resources they had and put the district in touch with geologists, other scientists and Stanford University.

“In general, we’re hoping our students never find themselves in a position where they’re wondering why they’re learning something,” Delaney. “What I hope is students have a very clear understanding of why they’re looking at soil types and that it’s important because of the soil shake amplification and it’s going to make a big difference when there is an earthquake.”

She also amplified what DEM’s Carroll said about educating families through their kids. “We know kids are the most powerful change-makers at home because it’s really impossible to say no to an empowered 11-year-old.”