By Chistine Benita, E-STEM co-coordinator and SPS district science curriculum specialist.
Our E-STEM program began as one with an environment and sustainability focus. We spent the first three years building our community and defining our foundation. The staff decided the best approach in fostering our program was to build integrated units around Earth's systems or the Ecospheres. Each elementary grade level and middle school Language Arts teacher chose a system that best supported an aspect of their science instruction and then integrated other content areas such as literacy and social studies.
But we didn't stop there, we continued to ask ourselves what our students needed to know before graduating our program. We added field studies and more time outside observing how our campus changed throughout the school year. We wanted to attend to academic behaviors and thus adopted the Habits of Mind as a way to identify how learners behave. We also attended to our staff, building a program takes focused effort and time to reflect. Such conversations remain superficial when trying to schedule them before or after school. We developed Released Days, bringing in substitutes for a day so that grade levels could work together for a dedicated amount of time to develop their integrated units and decide on field studies that supported their work.
And we didn't stop here either. STEM education became the national call to address the shortage of students entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Even more so, students graduating without the soft skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. We had the experience of integrating content with academic behaviors, adding the STEM components of engineering and technology further added rigor to our program. Again, we invested in our staff for this next level in our evolution. Teachers were given tablets and ways to use them. We hosted professional development in the engineering design practice where teachers learned the power of failure and perseverance--skills we model to our students.
This all occurred within our first seven years building our program, along with the stress of defining our physical space. We opened our doors at a time when Northeast Seattle schools were over capacity. It quickly became evident our building was needed to address the abundance of middle school students. But what to do with us? Dissolving our program was not an option, it was a vibrant program adding cohorts of students every year. We had to leave the Jane Addams building and with it, our inspirational name. One of the Habits of Mind is thinking flexibly, and the staff did so as we packed up our classrooms for a two-year interim site while a new building was being constructed.
We applied what we learned about integration, student engagement, flexible grouping, the advantageous uses of technology and outdoor education to the design of our new space, Hazel Wolf K-8 E-STEM school. We are enjoying this next level of defining our program, having a space that supports the learning that drives students to ask questions about their world and how they can make it a better place for future generations.
We are a Kindergarten to 8th grade public school in Seattle, Washington.