AFSF Teacher Externship Program

AFSF Teacher Externship Program

In June 2012 The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco hosted its second annual Teacher Externship program, in partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District Career Technical Education Division.  In a three week program, eight classroom teachers from seven different high schools worked with AFSF personnel to develop new curriculum units based on 21stCentury Skills for their classrooms. In order to increase their knowledge of how these skills play out in the contemporary workplace, each teacher was placed with a mentor in a firm in San Francisco. These firms ranged from architecture firms, to software companies, to construction firms and newly formed “dot-coms.” Each mentor and firm was specifically chosen to meet the needs of the teachers and their goals for improving their instruction. Teachers spent two mornings with their mentors, and three mornings working on their curriculum units. The program ran for three weeks.

Externs In Build SF Studio

The overarching goal of the externship program is the creation of  new lessons for high school students in a diverse group of classrooms. Each of the teachers used information from their externship experience to develop new approaches to their subject area. A short summary of teachers and their projects demonstrates the success of this approach.

  • Henry Machtay, Galileo HS: Henry made use of his observation of clients meetings with Tom Eliot Fisch Architecture to craft a new approach to how students in his media arts classes craft proposals for their media projects. Now his students will see projects as an ongoing process with lots of give and take between the producer –student and the client-teacher.
  • April Crosby, MET School: April’s experiences with Architectural Resources Group assisted her in developing a unit on sustainable consumer practices titled “Buy-Use-Toss.” This unit introduces the concept of sustainability and helps student understand the need for and benefits of recycling.
  • Art Simon , Lowell HS: Art spent time with Autodesk software company and also took training in 3D imaging and printing at Techshop. He developed a unit on Android Phone Application Programming for his Computer Sciences Class. This moves students into the realm of phone and tablet apps, a subject not usually taught in high school.
  • Charles Hoffman, Academy of Arts and Sciences: Charles worked on the evaluation of a community art installation for Intersection for the Arts. He developed support materials for student internships at Academy of Arts and Sciences. He hopes to expand these opportunities for more students.
  • Alma Parajito, Burton HS: Alma worked with WSP Flack and Kurtz Engineering.  Alma learned essential programming skills for teaching robotics in her engineering classes. Previously, she has been reluctant to attempt programming. Now she feels confident that she can impart this skill to her students.
  • Cynthia Olmeda, Washington HS: Cynthia worked with architect Jerry Gabriel at RMW architects, where she learned that architecture has changed dramatically since her experiences with the profession in her native Bolivia. She worked on developing a greater familiarity with Revit Architecture software for use in her architecture / engineering academy program.

  • Joel Simpson, Burton High School: Joel spent his time with CCI General Contractors, where he interviewed on videotape the education and experience each employee needed to be a success in his or her job, from receptionist to bookkeeper to principal partner. He intends to show these interviews to the students in his career academy program to inform their future decision making on continuing their education. Several CCI employees have volunteered to speak to his classes.
  • Beth Alberts, Independence HS: Beth worked with Wade Wilgus, the education editor for, the leading “Makers Movement” online presence. As a result of this experience, Beth has decided to create a “Makers Team” at Independence High School and to transform her classroom into a Makers facility. In the course of her work with us she created a “Girlie Bot” – a small robot that drew random patterns on paper with its legs.

    The GirlieBot

Every teacher was pleased and impressed by the receptions they received at the firms. They felt appreciated as professionals in their own right and had their ideas validated by other professionals. For some, it was a transformative experience simply to get out of the rigors of the classroom and into the less restrictive environments of the 21stCentury workplace.  While there was a great deal of difference between the formality of Tom Eliot Fisch and the more loosely structured or Intersection for the Arts, as they shared their experiences with each other they began to develop a greater sense of how 21st Century Skills apply in many different work environments.


For More Information Regarding the AFSF Teacher Externship Program, See Below:

In June 2011, AFSF devoted three weeks to a pilot program designed to demonstrate the applicability of its Build San Francisco high school mentoring program to addressing the problem of teacher staff development. In the Build San Francisco model, high school students take their afternoon classes at the AFSF design studio, studying issues in the built environment in accredited classes in architecture design and environmental field studies. Two afternoons each week students are placed with a mentor is a major San Francisco design, architecture, construction or engineering firm. This combination of rigorous academic study and real world experience has proven to be a powerful learning environment. AFSF staff felt that such an environment might work well in introducing teachers to the 21st Century skills that they are now required to teach in their classrooms, an allow them time to collaborate on lesson and project plans that would develop those skills in their students.

Working with the San Francisco Unified School District’s Career Education department (CTE) AFSF agreed to work with eight teachers from different high schools in the district. As a group these eight teachers teach over 1000 students each year. Each teacher was placed with a mentor in a firm related to the teacher’s academic assignment or personal interest for two mornings each week. The other three mornings were devoted to learning advanced computer skills, listening to presentations from experts and working on lessons and projects for their classrooms to be piloted during school year 2011-2012. The results were excellent.

In 2010, the SFUSD School Board adopted the following list of 21st Century Skills: multilingual and cross-cultural competency; technological literacy; communication skills; aesthetic sensibility; social, environmental, and civic responsibility; and strength of character. As a stand-alone list they have a great deal in common with other lists that have been generated in the past dozen years – but without context they do not offer teachers much to go on. As one SFUSD administrator admitted to an AFSF staff member last year, “I really can’t tell you how these words play out in the workplace. For example, what technologies should my students be literate in?” Teachers welcomed an opportunity to observe these skills and to work together on developing curriculum that incorporated these skills as they actually exist in the workplace.

Each teacher was asked to submit a request for the type of firm they felt would be most useful for them to visit. Based on these requests and AFSF knowledge of their partner firms, each teacher was placed with a mentor for the three week period of the program. The following table shows each placement.

Teacher School Subject Area Firm Mentor
Alma Pajarito Burton Engineering Academy Murphy Burr Curry Engineering Steve Curry
Karen Melander Lincoln Art and architecture Tom Eliot Fisch Architecture Doug Tom


Christine Hart Balboa Social Science RMW Architects Jerry Gabriel
Roger Michael Lee Lincoln Mathematics Holmes Culley Engineers Paul Littler
Cynthia Olmeda Washington Architecture/Engineering Academy Pollack Architecture Hakee Chang
Richard McDowell Galileo Health Science Academy CCI General Contractors Victor Brito
Joseph Alter Hilltop Multimedia Flack and Kurtz Engineers Susie See
Eric Chow Burton Information Tech Academy Kuhnline.comComputer Consultants Sean Mulvaney


One overwhelming reaction of the teachers to the experience was how well they were received by the mentor firms, and their deep appreciation that such knowledgeable (and busy) professionals would take so much time with them. In turn, they felt appreciated as professionals and validated in their efforts with our young people. The experience was, among other things, a morale builder for the teachers, who have a sense that they are under appreciated by the community at large. The mentors convinced them that they were, in fact, highly valued for their efforts with youth.

Each teacher successfully completed the program and developed lessons or projects for use with their students. Because each teacher represented a different program or discipline a wide range of project ideas grew out of the process. Alma Pajarito, math teacher in the Burton Engineering Academy developed lessons on the mathematics of the load measurement for a roof section, based on actual calculations she did under the direction of her mentor.

Christie Harte, civics teacher at Burton, create a project based on a “Landopoly” game to teach land use issues to her seniors. Eric Chow, information technology teacher at Burton worked out project management strategies for a new video lab program he is developing. Even more impressive, he created a virtual classroom model of his proposed new space, using Autodesk Revit Architecture which he learned during the externship program.

He will be able to use this representation, along with a series of floor plans created with the same program to direct the school district in creating the new lab to his specifications.

Each of the teachers presented new fresh approaches to their subject area and came away from the program thinking deeply about other changes they were considering implementing.

In their final evaluations of the program, all were extremely positive in their responses. A collection of comments from the teachers follows:

Getting an overview of the CCI company structure has reminded me of the importance of several values and themes that I promote in the classroom. My time with you has also provided me with several new ideas I will enjoy pursuing in the years to come. Examples of the shared values and new ideas I took away from my time at CCI include: an emphasis on quality, honesty, integrity, accountability, creativity, friendliness and communication. Seeing these values in all of you gave me more than one pause for thought and was a source of inspiration. Richard McDowell – Mentor Thank You letter

This summer I was given the great opportunity to participate in this internship where I was exposed with the real life situation. I experienced and observed engineers in action and what kind of things they do for a living. At first, I was very intimidated and nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. However, after the first day of working with Murphy Burr Curry, INC I felt very confident and fortunate to be working and learning from someone who was making great projects. Steve Curry was very welcoming and I learned a lot from him. Alma Pajarito

My time at RMW was 100% useful in understanding systems-especially viewing their work through the prism of a private entity that creates work that affects and is used by the public, and through the lens of economics-how a business finds, plans, and finances their work, and cultivates the professional satisfaction of their staff. Christie Harte

I have some solid project ideas for students to analyze media productions, taking the program apart and piecing together how each element of a production fits in place with another. I would like to design more challenges in which students approach a problem and come up with a plan whether it is a video or other media format, or even creating sets and backgrounds or a system for video production. Eric Chow

It was fantastic to be able to explore the 3DS, Revit, and Sketchup software with Catherine and the other teachers. I think all the teachers generated some fantastic lesson plan ideas for next year. It was also great to meet and interact with the State and City officials in charge of CTE and discuss the available programs. Mike Lee

In twenty years of teaching this is one of the six professional development workshops that I felt was valuable. Karen Melander