Faculty Spotlight: Marcele Augustine

Marcele Augustine is a 5h -8th grade Technology teacher, 5th grade science teacher and 6th grade counselor at the Seattle Girls’ School. Marcele has been teaching at SGS for three years, moving to Seattle after spending 20 years teaching in New York City. After graduating from the University of San Diego with a degree in Literature and Writing, Marcele never expected to get into tech, but saw it emerging as an important part of education while working with Teaching Matters. We’re excited to share more about Marcele and her role at SGS! 

Did you work in education prior to SGS?

Marcele in 1999 with her first robot.

Yes! I’ve spent most of my career in education. I started as a writing teacher at a high school in San Diego, and led the writing academy in an International Baccalaureate program. Eventually I moved to New York, where I worked for an organization called Teaching Matters. My role at Teaching Matters took me to public and private schools around New York City working with teachers and students on tech development, specifically the integration of the internet in the classroom—that’s really how I got into tech. 

I wound up working at schools in the East Village similar to SGS in that they had a real focus on progressive education. From there, I worked for a group called Vision Education, where I learned coding and met Seymour Papert, the guru of coding for kids. This experience set me up for the next part of my career.

My last role before SGS was in New York City, at another all-girl school focused on progressive education called the Spence School. I taught there for 13 years before moving back to the west coast!

Can you tell us more about progressive education?

Progressive education to me takes more of a constructionist approach to teaching students. Kids learn by doing and excel when they are constructing their own knowledge. The students make things with their own hands through project-oriented activity, rather than through tests and “chalk and talk” memorization.

When addressing a question about simple machines, for example, instead of reading about a simple machine like a ramp, we build one. Let’s build a simple machine model, test it out and then go out into the community and see a ramp in action.

I apply the same method to coding. When my kids are learning coding, I want them coding something that they can apply to the real world. If they’re creating a video game, they’re learning the steps and concepts in the creation process rather than just reading about it, and it is applicable to the real world, because people will play their game!

It’s also important to note that progressive education is relative to the period of time that we’re living in. Over time, I’ve broadened my own definitions to include education that is integrated, like STEM and STEAM classes that are inclusive in their approach to social justice and cultural awareness. Currently I’ve been focused on understanding the impacts of systemic white supremacy that sits at the root of American culture and understanding the role I can play as an educator in dismantling those systems. 

What is special or unique about teaching at an all-girls’ school? What benefits does an all-girls environment have on students?

At first I wasn’t convinced of an all-girl or single gender education, but over time I learned about all of the amazing opportunities these environments can offer. It’s also important to note that at SGS it’s not just girls, it’s girls and gender nonconforming students. It’s the same spirit of empowering young girls and people who are nonconforming to really have a voice and be socially conscious. Our students have a safe space where they can engage in social political activism, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities, and other unique hands-on opportunities.

Tell us about your own middle school education:

I went to “Junior High” so instead of 6th-8th grade like middle school today, my school was 7th-9th grade and that’s where I became inspired to work at an all-girls school. I took a social studies class taught by a woman named Janice Anderson, who was a pioneer in teaching Womens’ Studies at a junior high level.  As a kid growing up, I always felt like I was a feminist, but this class really changed the way I saw myself as a girl and as a female. 

Around then was also when Title IX was passed and I could finally see girls playing team sports in a structured way, which really made a difference in how I saw myself as an athlete. It gave me the confidence to pursue athletics and played a big reason in why I’m a triathlete today. Title IX and Ms. Anderson’s Women’s Studies class in Junior High really shaped the woman I am today.

How does social justice integrate into STEAM education?

I’ve introduced women scientists and coders and that kind of thing, but the next thing we’re doing is called building with Universal Design. The idea behind Universal Design is that we create and design items and programs with those on the margins in mind. Universal Design is a framework for design thinking that the students will put into action. It came out of Stanford and encourages problem solving through iteration and the process of empathy. 

We will identify community-centered problems to solve, then do an investigation into how to reach the most equitable and inclusive solution to that problem. When you design what you’re building towards the margins, your product is more accessible and useful to everyone. 

What inspires you about your students?

Current SGS students working on engineering project.

There’s so much to say here. They’re inquisitive, they stand up for what they believe in, and they have a true passion for fighting injustice. They are really insatiable when it comes to social justice. They’re problem solvers too, they don’t just talk about these problems, they’re really creative problem solvers. 

While I’ve only been here for three years, the growth I see in these students from when they get here to when they leave is incredible. The students who come here come in with an interest in STEAM and social justice, but this environment cultivates development and growth into strong, compassionate leaders. Whether it is public speaking at community meetings, participating in mock trial or the cycling program, all of our students have the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and grow. It’s been incredible to watch my students take advantage of these opportunities and thrive.

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