The 21st Century Classroom

AR, VR & a virtual autopsy table sound like things you would never expect in a high school classroom. However, welcome to 2021, where these tools are becoming the foundation for student growth.

Kerin Coffey, a biomedical science teacher at Eastside High School in Lancaster, California has discovered what makes a 21st century classroom. From technology in the classroom, to understanding technology & social media outside the classroom, Kerin knows what is necessary for a student to succeed in their K-12 education.

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Kerin Coffey 0:00
There’s a place for everyone to shine. And we need to give that to kids because they deserve it.

Kevin Oates 0:09
From Dirigo Collective This is Renegades & Mavericks, sharing the stories of people interrupting the status quo and breaking new ground in their field.

As an educator, I build my lesson plans and curriculum around application-based learning. Meaning whatever I’m teaching in the classroom, I want my students to know how to either apply it or put in the context outside the classroom. I’m always on the hunt to find other educators across the country who had the same approach, and always working to improve their teaching year after year. Enter Kerin Coffey of Eastside High School, a 20-plus year biomedical science teacher, Kerin Coffey, didn’t see herself as a teacher initially. But after one to two years of teaching, she realized the impact she can make for students and her insane love of science. Not only is she a progressive and amazing teacher, but the school she teaches at is incredible and innovative. Next is her story of getting to be Mrs. Coffey in the classroom, and the impact she has made on the next generation of learners and innovators. This is Kerin Coffey. And she is a renegade.

Kerin Coffey 1:28
So my mom is a teacher. And I think she’s really the person who inspired me to be a teacher to be completely 100% honest, I didn’t have an interest in being a teacher. But because my mom was one, when I graduated from college, I had a degree in life science. And I didn’t know what I was going to do right away, it was so general and my mom taught sixth grade, and there was an opening for science at her school. And she’s like, why don’t you try this. And I was like, whoo, I don’t know. And so that’s how I started, my career was sort of on accident, needing something. And then the first couple of years, it was a little tough, and then it got better. And I’m so glad that I had my mom as a role model, I got to teach with her for the first three years. And honestly, I think that’s the only reason I continued teaching is because she made me promise to try a second year after the first one. And then she said after that you can change your mind if you need to. And she was right. Like after the second year, I got a little bit better. And then as I grew as an educator, you know, she’s moved on to do other things. And she’s the person who I saw in that role. And my sisters are both educators as well.

Kevin Oates 2:40
And you mentioned that you received your degree in life science, but why life science? What about science do you connect with that’s really engaging to you?

Kerin Coffey 2:50
I had a science teacher early in junior high, and super engaging. And all the experiments and hands on stuff really drew me in and I just found a love for like the human body, I just found everything is so interesting, I would be obsessed with like learning more about like the way the human body worked. So when I went to college, I felt a little unprepared for the lab, like I was still completely motivated to do science and biology. But when I got to the classes, I found that I was completely behind I wasn’t the same, you know, at the same level, I didn’t know what certain lab materials were. And it was a little frustrating because I loved it so much. When I started teaching, that was my goal, to make sure that my students, you know, when they went off to do whatever it is that they want him to do that they would never have that feeling of being like loving something so much, but not knowing you know what those things were. And there’s something about the human body that’s so fascinating to me. And still to this day, I just can’t stop learning about it.

Kevin Oates 3:54
There’s always something new to discover. And I’ve always envied those who just gravitate towards science because for me, that was not going to happen. So from where you began just actually over 20 years ago to now what have been the core principles that you live by, as an educator?

Kerin Coffey 4:10
There’s two things that I think are so important. Number one is to love what you teach. So I’m so excited about my topic, that I find it difficult not to, like keep that together. So like, I’m like, you guys, you are not going to believe this. And they’re always like, oh, you’re nerding out right now Mrs. Coffey, and I’m like I am but that’s how fabulous this thing is like, you’re gonna love it as much as I love it. And even though I know everyone doesn’t love it, like in your case, I have students who are looking back at me like this, this is not as exciting as you think it is. But during those moments when we’re in class, I’m going to share my love for whatever it is. So I think whatever it is that you teach, you know it has to be you have to be inspired by it. And then second just to be kind. So every day like I have students that come to class who come from all different backgrounds, you know, all kinds of things going on at home. And I’m like, no matter what happens in my class, I’m going to be kind. So do they test me sometimes? Yeah, they test me. I taught junior high for a long time. Now I teach ninth grade, it’s not perfect, you know, and there’s some days, but I remember, they’re 14. And so even when we have rough days, you know, I might have to say to someone, the next day, like, Hey, I maybe didn’t handle that the right way. I was frustrated, you know, I had an off day myself. But my ultimate goal is always to be kind. And I have students who come to class every day who don’t do anything. And instead of getting in fights with them, or whatever, I think, hey, if they’re in class, and I was kind to them, and they picked up anything, then that was a better situation than what they were in before. And so it’s not always easy to do. But that’s what I really try to do over these years. And I think it’s been really helpful.

Kevin Oates 5:57
So we just talked about your core principles, but how have you evolved over 20 years? Like, what are the biggest shifts as an educator that you’ve seen?

Kerin Coffey 6:06
Oh, my gosh, there’s been so many shifts over the years, I definitely started off like lecturing for the entire class period, you know, and students taking notes, overhead projectors, all of those things. So technology has been huge during my career, that that integration of technology, super exciting things. And then like with anything, you know, there’s some things troubles that come along with the shift in technology. But that has been just amazing. And we’ve been able to do so many cool things, you know, with, with the addition of technology. We have an anatomist virtual autopsy table here, we have virtual reality and augmented reality, z space machines, like where students can pull a heart out of someone’s chest and feel it beat. And like all of those things, I don’t know how you could not get excited about that. So technology has been the biggest change over the years. And then for me, personally, I’ve just been become more flexible, and realizing like, you kind of have to know your audience, students are different every year, things are changing. And so the ability to pivot, that’s been the word of the year have the ability to pivot, I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing. But all of these years, I think you just have to really be aware of what’s happening out there and listening to the kids and listening to the parents and like what’s important in especially like for us in our community, things that are important for our community, and try to like weave all of that together. So that’s changed over these years.

Kevin Oates 7:43
I want to go to that school.

Kerin Coffey 7:45
Oh, my gosh, I know I every day. I’m like, I cannot believe this is my like, it’s really fabulous.

Kevin Oates 7:51
So you are a high school teacher with the biomedical sciences team at Eastside High School. And this is in Lancaster, California through a program called Linked Learning. Can you can you just like fill us in on like, what Linked Learning is? And why? Why did you go after this position in teaching,

Kerin Coffey 8:09
I had learned about this biomed experience. So just to be clear, if like my school is a public school, and we have about 2800 students on campus, and about 450 of them are in this academy. So it’s a it’s an academy, but it’s like a school within the school, I guess you could call it. And our district is has, I guess, they’ve just committed to doing career technical education. And there’s a comprehensive high schools in my district. And so at my school site, the academy that they began was the biomed Academy. And because of my interest in the human body, I was like really drawn drawn to it. And when I started it was early on in the program. So we use something called Project Lead the Way curriculum, which is National, they have three strands of coursework. So they have the biomed. They have computer science, and then also engineering. And so this is a curriculum that they put out. And schools can be a part of, and it’s a four year pathway experience. So students in our program, take these four classes. So there’s a ninth grade class and 10th, grade 11th and 12th. And we started off just with those classes, and it would kind of be considered an elective. So it would be for students who might be interested in in medicine as an elective. When I first joined the school, there was a shift in this link learning approach. And essentially, the idea is that you take career technical theme, and then you weave it in with the academic coursework of a student. And they’ve seen they have research that shows that when students are taking classes in a field, that they have interest in that they that attendance is better, that participation is better, that the students you know, A through G In California, we talk about the 3g rates, like for the classes that they’re taking for being prepared for college. All of that increases, like all of the statistics are, you know, upward, going. And so that’s pretty exciting, right? When you see the research, I thought, that’s pretty cool. Like, why not? Why wouldn’t you do that? You know, but to be honest, you’re never quite sure. One of the things you asked about before was, you know, the shift in education, the things that are happening, I can’t tell you how many like things came across, you know, my desk, like, oh, now we’re doing this. Now we’re doing that now we’re trying this. And sometimes it feels just like just another check mark. And throughout my career, there’s been things that I’ve done where I’ve just been like, Okay, I have to do it, because I have to somebody told me, I had to do this thing, you know. But for Linked Learning, it basically provided a framework for us to build our academy in a way that has just been so beneficial to students. So essentially, what happened is, we had the for four years of classes, but starting in 2016, we started cohorting our students into academic classes as well. So in my class, I teach ninth grade principles of biomedical sciences. My students also take honors English nine together. And so the only biomed kids are in these classes together, and the honors English nine teacher and I work together, and we create integrated lessons and projects. So all of the reading that they might be doing in English has a medical kind of flavor to it, or they might be doing an experiment in my class, but they’ll write the lab report in English. But now because that teacher is doing it in English, we’re really able to work together in the students also see that these classes are not like siloed, you know, like, you don’t just go to math, or just go to English, that all of these things are things that are working together, which is how it is in real life, you know, so, so relevant that kids, so as they move through the academy each year, they’re cohorted, in more classes together. And we still have the theme. So you might even think like, oh, how are you tying in, like, the sophomores take AP world history, with our human body systems class, but there’s so many things that that that happened to people, you know, in history. And then we also really focus on strong student support. So the students that are in our academy, they choose to be in the academy, but we don’t say no to anyone. So anybody who wants to be a part of it is able to get in. So it’s we really focus on equity, we find students who are interested, even if they wouldn’t typically be AP or on our students, as long as we provide them the supports, that they need to be successful. They’ve been successful. So we have students with IEP students with 504’s, with all kinds of challenges, but because they love what they’re doing and enjoying these experiences, they’ve been successful in high school. So that’s been an important part. And then also providing work based learning experiences for the students so that they’re prepared when they leave for both college and career.

Kevin Oates 12:57
Have you started to see this go across the country at all?

Kerin Coffey 13:01
Yes, it is being launched in other states, but it is running pretty quickly because it’s working, you know, and we have data that shows how it’s working. And so I can get you the data, you know, for later.

Kevin Oates 13:13
So in this type of program, you’re not just creating college preparation, but career and life preparation. It’s like all encompassing into one, one intersection. With this type of program, though, what have been the largest obstacles as an educator?

Kerin Coffey 13:27
What’s been difficult for me, and our academy is providing work based learning experiences for students, we’ve had to think a little bit outside the box. So if you think about, like traditional internships, it’s difficult for a myriad of reasons. But one is that in the healthcare field with HIPAA, and all the rules that surround that, and then you can imagine, you know, most recently, with a pandemic, there’s all of these barriers kind of in place, to getting students in those places to learn to see, you know, what’s happening in the industry. So we’ve really had a look like and think outside the box, I just met with someone earlier today about an experience where there’s an avatar, so kids can do like a virtual, like interviewing a patient, and there’s an avatar that with a real person on the background that talks, you know, for the like, so it’s not impossible, but thinking outside the box on how to get these kids, you know, these worked based experiences that’s been difficult. I find that people in the industry are willing to help like people want to help out with education, but sometimes it’s unclear. What the people in education is ask is, so like, I have I have friends and family members are like, Oh, yeah, we could do whatever you need to do. But the reality of like how school works, like, for example, if I wanted to have a guest speakers, let’s say I’m talking about respiratory therapist, right? To ask a respiratory therapist to like come to my school for a day to see whatever they want to talk about for five periods an hour long. That’s to like, there’s, that’s not happening. But really, the value of hearing that live is so important, you know, for the students to see the person or be able to ask the person. So if I only record it in one period, and then play it to the other periods, that kind of loses a little bit of the nuances of like, what it’s like to have a guest speaker. And so somehow, we have to, like merge all of those things together. So the people in the industry really do want to help the people in education really want these people to come in. And it’s so important, because it’s like, you know, building a pipeline of, like, I want to know what people are doing in the industry, so that I can make sure my students are prepared for that. But somehow, there’s a disconnect there. So building that bridge is so important, like we need people to broker those relationships and be able to see a lot of industry people are not used to working with high school students. And so there’s, there’s so many like weird little things that happen. And so that can be challenging. That has been my, my biggest challenge in this position is looking for experiences for students, but also that would benefit, you know, industry people.

Kevin Oates 16:06
Have you found any institutions that are ready to do that middle ground work to make sure that this can happen for students?

Kerin Coffey 16:14
Yeah, so I think the Linked Learning people are working on trying to make that those engagements easier. You know, if I’m teaching you five sections of kids a day, I have 150 plus students, and then I’m also trying to engage industry people to come like how all of that works is just really tricky, you know, so different districts are doing it differently, but it can be done. And you have to have a positive attitude and keep working toward it. And like little, you know, little things. We started a sports med program at our school to allow students to have those hands on things here, you know, on campus, because you can learn how to wrap and tape and you know, what better place then for the athletes that are competing on campus here. So we were able to create that program, we’re able to connect some kids with our school nurse to work here. So it’s like thinking about those things. And luckily, you know, other people outside consultants have helped us to make those connections. And we have found that the people in the health field are totally willing, you know, to work with us. And it’s just a matter of figuring out, you know, how that the logistics behind like scheduling it and all of those things, that can be tricky. But I’ve never met someone who said no, like everybody wants to help. It’s just how to make that happen sometimes is tricky.

Kevin Oates 17:34
Where, and how do you think we need to shift or redefine the K-12 education experience? Because clearly Eastside High School and the academy itself is really doing innovative approaches to education? But what do you think could be some really big changes that can help the entire K-12 system, whether that’s public or private?

Kerin Coffey 17:54
Yeah, I think we’re on the right track. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge that every student doesn’t work in the same way, you know, I found this year, I have students who may have struggled, learning in the traditional classroom have done really, really great This way, you know, in distance learning style. And then some of my students who did great in the classroom, we’re really struggling, you know, during this distance learning thing, but all year, it’s been just kind of eye opening to me that we have to do better for all kids, you know, so it gets a little overwhelming when I think about it, because I think I’m only one person I can’t like this is like, but I do feel like in general, we’re doing a disservice for so many students, because we’re trying to make kids fit inside, you know, a certain, like, you have to do these things. And I have so many kids who are so, so valuable, you know, every single student has something to bring to the table. And you might not see it, like in those moments, and they may act out or whatever, but their kids, you know, so I feel like it’s our the onus is on us to figure out like, what those experiences are and to create them for those students so that they feel plugged in that they feel valuable, you know, I can’t, I can’t imagine having a kid who just is like, I’m going there, and sitting there all day, and I don’t feel like this is valuable, and I feel frustrated. And parents are frustrated. And it feels like we have to do better so that there’s options for kids. And I think now is the time I actually, you know, one of the silver linings of all of this is it’s really shaking things up. It’s made people step up in technology teachers who were kind of doing it old school, you know, voted in now have to do this technology stuff. And it’s just opened my eyes to I mean, I’ve always you always know like part of the teaching stuff is that there’s different types of learners, right, but like we can, we can accommodate different type of people and we should be accommodating every type of student. There’s a place for everyone to shine. And we need to give that to kids because they deserve it.

Kevin Oates 19:59
What is the student story that through the Linked Learning program through the academy that really stuck with you, and you don’t say their name, but you know, based on their experience, and the power of this program, that is a great example of this type of learning.

Kerin Coffey 20:15
I have had the privilege of working with like so many fabulous students over the years, but most recently, we had a student and graduate last year, who was a foster kid in our, our area, we have the highest percentage of foster youth. And so it’s a big issue here where we’re at. Anyway, this student, she is amazing. I wish you could meet her if you ever do a podcast on just amazing humans. Um, she is definitely one she has just such a great story. So she entered the system when she was 11. I think she moved 12 times in high school. She was with us at the beginning. Um, so she started her freshman year with us in the academy. And then while she was in high school, because of some situations with like foster homes and emergency situations, they were she was moved from place to place, but she finally got her way back here to Eastside. One of them, I’m sure there’s lots of reasons, one of the reasons was that she, you know, wanted to continue to be a part of the academy. Another is that she made a connection with a teacher, I can do this so important, one of our English teachers here, took her in, you know, fostered her, so that she could finish her school here. And this kid, despite all of that, like just every obstacle that you can think of, she graduated, she got a 14 something on the LSAT, and she’s at USC this year, and just killing it, and she just has such big things to offer. And there’s so many students, so many of our kids, you know, we’re in kind of a rough area, I told you, you were a public school, sometimes people are like, you’re doing this at a public school. And really, yeah, there’s, you know, that’s how it happens. We have a great group of people that we’re working with, but these kids are so worth it. And they have such great stories, and they have so much to offer the world. It’s just so inspiring everyday to be able to work with these students who are just like thinking differently. And I always tell them, I have hoped like, this is gonna be when this happens, you know, cures for cancer, and all of these big, you know, ideas, I think they’re the ones that are going to be able to do it. So she’s one of my all time you know, the stories where I just look at it, I think, I don’t know, if it’s specifically the biomedica I think a lot a lot has to do with the kid. But I think what we were doing helps because she was drawn into the idea of the way the academy work, she wanted to be a part of it, she had a space that felt like home. And you know, she did whatever she had to do to make sure she can continue that and then graduate from here, and then you know, just really continue to make us proud.

Kevin Oates 22:52
So where do you work to improve on yourself as an educator year over year? Like how do you keep striving to get to that next level?

Kerin Coffey 23:01
I think it’s so important never to feel like, you know, subtle, there’s always new things to add. For me personally, as I’m getting older, I’m realizing like, I feel like I’m getting further and further away from like, some of the stuff I don’t know, like, I don’t have an Instagram and the kids are like Miss call. Yeah, cuz, you know, I’m like, Okay, well. So I guess that part for me is just making sure that I’m as current as possible. So I can make make things relevant. So I try really hard. Luckily, I have kids that are, you know, teenagers, so they keep me, you know, on whatever is new and whatever, I’ll come home. And I’ll be like the kids were talking about this today, tell me what you know, today. So I feel like for me, I have to constantly be learning and looking for ways to make things relevant for the kids. So that’s something that I need to improve on. And I never feel like I did a perfect job. So every year I’m looking for places, you know, to make better. And then I’m looking for, for opportunities for students. I never want to sit back and be like, Oh, I created this thing. And then that’s enough. So I’m always listening, I’m researching. I’m seeing what other schools are doing. I’m making connections, like, Oh, you have an academy there. Let me try that or I’m going to a conference and networking. And every time I meet someone, there’s a potential of creating an experience for one of my students, and it’s worth it. So even if it doesn’t pan out, like you know, if there’s, if I have 20 interactions with people and two things happen for a student that could potentially you know, put them in the right direction, then it’s worth it.

Kevin Oates 24:32
So we ask all our guests at the end of each episode, what they would impart on to the next generation of Renegades & Mavericks. And specifically for you, I really want to focus on either those who are looking to go into education, or even just current teachers or those who have been teaching for 10 or more years, what would you encourage them to dig deeper into?

Kerin Coffey 24:53
So I think it’s important to remember why you’re passionate about your subject and to bring that To the kids, you know, to make that a priority is being packed, like what, what made you passionate about it. And then to remind yourself and the students like how great that subject is. Because if you’re not excited about it, they’re not going to be either. So I think that’s the number one for old, older educators, and then also people coming that are starting new, it’s not going to be easy, it won’t be, but it’s worth it. And so also just realizing that it’s always a work in progress, it’ll never be perfect. So you can just do your best every single day you try to do your best if you make change for one student, then it’s worth it. And it’s going to be definitely a lot more than one student. Having a good attitude. And being kind I think is really, really important because kids come from really tough places. And this should be their safe space where they feel like they can grow and they’re supported. If you ever feel like you can’t give that to students and it might be time to like with, you know, for other opportunities. Also, I think it’s important to take care of yourself. This isn’t the kind of job that just stays in the eight to five range. So it can be really hard to balance everything and to remember to take care of yourself so that you can give back because you can’t give to the students if you yourself are like struggling so to recognize the balance is important. I’m still telling myself that

Kevin Oates 26:25
To learn more about Kerin Coffey’s pact and the Linked Learning program at Eastside High School you can see it all in the show notes at And something new we are adding to the Renegades and Mavericks podcast is that at the end of each episode, we will be featuring a segment that thing’s a teacher that inspired us the most because well. Teachers need to be recognized for their work 365 days a year. To kick things off. I want to thank the late Jeff Herchenroder, my high school orchestra teacher for being the man that he was. Mr. Herchendroder, or as we refer to him, Uncle Jeffy, thank you for inspiring me to follow my passion to be an orchestra educator from cups of tea to Wallace and Gromit. Your passion for teaching solidified the decision for me to go into education. You are greatly missed, but will always be an inspiration. If you’d like to submit a thank you to your favorite teacher to be featured on the outro of an episode of Renegades & Mavericks email and audio recording do