A leader in STEM and equity, Screen moves on

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Alex Lautin, Contributing Writer

Computer Science and Robotics Department Chair Danah Screen is leaving the school to continue her teaching career at the Dalton School. Screen has been teaching at the school for five years. At Dalton, Screen will be the director of the robotics program, teach and further lessons concerning equity in the computer science curriculum, work in their Office of Global initiatives to create a Heritage Trip program for students of color, and work with the office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to create a process to aid teachers to further cultural sensitivity within their respective curricula, she said.
“One of my best moments was having the opportunity to learn alongside my students, whether it was in robotics, creating the t-shirt business, with affinity groups, or delving more into my own personal identities as a way to better assist my students,” Screen said.
Shrey Sahgal (12) had Computer Science 2 in 10th grade, AP Computer Science in 11th grade, and Robotics throughout his time at the school, all with Screen, he said. Sahgal’s highlight of Screen’s teaching was when the FTC (FIRST Tech Robotics) Robotics team was working on fixing the code for their robotics competition.
“Ms. Screen had to cancel her plans the weekend before the competition to help us fix a problem in our code,” Sahgal said. “She sat there with us for fifty-plus hours and helped us figure our problem out. We were all big Lord of the Rings fans so she set up her laptop and we watched all three movies, one every day. It was one of the most fantastic weekends of my life.”
Screen helped the FTC robotics program expand throughout her years at the school, Sahgal said. “There were 20 people on the team, and now there are 70 plus,” he said.
Over her years of teaching at the school, Screen made it a point to talk about equity and access in her classes. “Sometimes we had discussions where students would bring up really great points, and then I would try to derail them to get them to see all of the sides where people are coming from,” Screen said. Screen tried to make sure that every student in the classroom was able to find pieces of themselves and their culture, she said.
These discussions in Screen’s class about equity led to the creation of the programs STEAM on the Hill and Women Empowered in STEM (weSTEM), Screen said. These programs were started by students’ discussions in Computer Science 2 on the outreach and accessibility of learning. The goal of the programs is to provide access to learning to everyone and to create equality. STEAM on the Hill is affiliated with the school’s Summer on the Hill program; it helps instill the engineering mindset in students. WeSTEM is an initiative trying to bring gender equality to the sciences.
Screen also made sure that everyone was welcome in FTC robotics, no matter their experience or identity, co-founder of WeSTEM Alexis Fry (11) said. “I appreciate Ms. Screen’s commitment to supporting every single student at Horace Mann that she has.”
“Ms. Screen knows the challenges of being a student of color and how much representation matters in these communities,” Associate Director of College Counseling Frank Cabrera said.
In addition to the incorporation of equality in her classes, Screen also included fun in her lessons. There were a few different ways for students to get extra credit in her AP Computer Science class; one tasked the students with creating an informative music video about a particular topic that the students had learned in class, Screen said.
“She always had discussion based classes where we talk about anything from how to solve a particular content problem to the ethics of computer science,” Sahgal said.
Screen values relationships and connections with students, and she strives to listen to feedback from all of her students to create the best version of herself, Cabrera said.“It’s been inspiring to see the ways in which she has fostered a sense of home for so many students. I think those of us returning next year will have very big shoes to fill.”
Screen’s students would often come to her office outside of class to work on puzzles and talk to her, she said. “They were a nice way for students to talk about whatever they were going through while putting these together,” Screen said. “My favorite moments were with Alexis when she would think she had found pieces but they were completely wrong.”
Something that stood out from Screen’s teaching was the end of the year Shark Tank project in Computer Science 2, Fry said. When Fry presented her Shark Tank project, Screen “really liked our pitch for weSTEM, and she encouraged my group to bring it into fruition,” Fry said. Screen is focused on having her students take what they learned and apply their knowledge to ideas beyond the classroom, which is especially important for computer science since there are many intersections with other fields that you can take advantage of and innovate with, Fry said.
Screen’s classes are unique, Sahgal said. “She always had discussion based classes, which I don’t think is normal for computer science classes,” Sahgal said. In those classes, they discussed topics such as the ethics of computer science, Sahgal said. “When we were learning about a topic called recursion, which is repetitive nested processes, we watched the movie inception and we had to write a short paper on how that movie related to recursion, which was pretty cool,” he said.
“Ms. Screen has shown me the power of intentionality and commitment to students. She is a mirror for so many students and faculty and has served as a continual reminder to me that true education is when you speak truth to power,” Middle Division history teacher Ronald Taylor said. “I will miss her dearly from our around the campus chats and the work we both did oftentimes to support students formally through STEPS [Students Together Empowering People of Color Successfully] or BLEX [Black Excellence],” Taylor said. STEPS is a mentoring program for MD students of color, mentored by UD students of color, and BLEX is an affinity group at the school.
Taylor met Screen at the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) People of Color Conference, Taylor said. “We had landed in California and were heading to the hotel, of course, we were wrapped up in deep conversation about the conference and our hopes and expectations,” Taylor said. Taylor forgot to bring his bag with him to their hotel because Ms. Screen is “so compelling in conversation,” Taylor said.
“She’s the kind of teacher that would let you come into her office no matter how busy she was, and always be there for you,” Nshera Tutu (11) said. “She works tirelessly to create a community and environment in which we feel comfortable enough to be ourselves, and know that we have others who care about us.”
Screen credits the students at the school for her growth as a teacher, she said. “I’ll never forget the moment when a student told me, ‘I need you as much as other students need you,’” Screen said. This was the moment where she realized that there was a blindspot in her ability to be available to all, which helped to inform her of her presence in and out of the classroom, Screen said.
“For us, this loss feels much greater than just losing our advisor,” Tutu said. “We are also losing the person that made HM feel like home, and that’s a loss that will be felt for a while.”
“I’m really grateful for the time that I’ve had at Horace Mann. Leaving is bittersweet,” Screen said. “While I’m excited for this new opportunity, I’m really sad to say goodbye to the students and the colleagues that I’ve met.”