Enthusiasm for learning is in the air inside and outside as Evergreen becomes the first elementary school in the Peninsula School District to become a fully integrated STEAM school.
STEM is a buzzword in education across the nation. This familiar acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The extra “A” in STEAM is for art.
The spark for change came nearly four years ago when Principal Hugh Maxwell and third-grade teacher Therese Souers attended a technology conference in Seattle. During one of the presentations by an Idaho grade school transitioning to STEM, they watched video footage of students working collaboratively in small groups. One student was assigned to record video of the process on an iPad as the rest conducted their science experiment.
“You couldn’t have torn those kids away from the activity,” Maxwell said. Afterward, the students were eager to go back and watch the video multiple times to really understand what was happening. Technology allowed them to participate fully in the moment yet enabled them to review the process as often as needed to drive home the lessons learned, he said.
“We have a great curriculum in the district, but it becomes pretty wide and lacks the depth we’d like,” Maxwell said. “There is a lot of pressure on students to perform well on state tests and I worry that’s where we lose some of the kids.
“We typically see STEM programs start at the high school level and filter down,” Maxwell said. “Why not start when children are young, naturally curious and creative, beginning in preschool and the early primary levels instead of waiting until middle school or high school?”
Making the transition to the STEAM program required teachers willing to embrace and develop an integrated teaching approach in their classrooms. In order for it to work throughout the school, everyone needed to be onboard. As teachers attended conferences, visited other schools and learned more about how STEAM engaged students and improved outcomes, a renewed sense of enthusiasm began to take hold, Maxwell said.
The district acquired the adjacent 2 1/2 acres north of the school many years ago for possible building expansion or parking in the future. The previously logged parcel sat idle and the land was quickly overgrown by invasive Himalayan blackberry vines.
Souers and her fellow teachers saw the possibility of creating an outdoor learning center on the lot, including restoring native flora and fauna and creating habitat for bugs, worms, frogs, birds, butterflies in an easily accessible place for students to experience the many levels of biodiversity on the Key Peninsula.
“We want to get a committee together to begin plantings, like a native garden specifically to attract butterflies,” Souers said. “We’ll have to get a class or two together to commit to caring for that.”
Students will need basic things like gloves and shovels. Community support from garden clubs, conservation groups and others could play an important role in making the outdoor learning center successful, she said.
“We know we could be doing more with the existing playground and we’re looking at getting things that will be more interactive for students,” Souers said. “For some kids, recess with unstructured time can be difficult, so we’re working to get educational outdoor things to keep them entertained in productive ways.”
“We know our community is full of resources with people in STEM-related jobs and the arts, the very things that can so enrich our students’ lives,” Maxwell said. “One of the big things we want to do is reach out to this community for people who want to make a difference.”
Evergreen Elementary is at 1820 Key Peninsula Hwy S in Lakebay. Call 530-1300 for more information, to volunteer or to offer donations.