Huntington School District Taking S.T.E.M. To The Next Level
By Ilene Fucci
At the beginning of the next school year, the Huntington School District will be opening a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) school. It will be held at the Jack Abrams School. The school will include 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. There will be two classes at each grade level for a total of 150 students.
Huntington School district already has a strong science program at the 7—12 level. Opening the STEM school is a way to strengthen the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum at the primary levels.
According to Superintendent Polansky, opening the STEM school will not only provide a unique opportunity for the students who attend the school, it will have a positive impact on STEM instruction throughout the district. This new school will create a model or HUB for inquiry based learning at the elementary level. It will also provide a strong foundation and better prepare Huntington School district students for the opportunities that await them at the secondary level.
The most significant thing that distinguishes the STEM school from the other schools, is the style of teaching that will happen there. It is not about major upgrades in technology. This is why the school district was able to move forward with their plans to open the school even though they are not certain if they will receive the large grant they applied for.
Inquiry based learning is characterized as learning that is child centered as opposed to teacher centered. It involves questions, concepts, interaction and collaborative work. Inquiry based learning tends to involve multiple resources rather than just a textbook or worksheets. The teacher serves as a model and coach rather than teaching in lecture style. There is usually a focus on cross-disciplinary studies rather than focus on one subject at a time.
This type of teaching is already happening in many classrooms throughout Huntington and other school districts. The difference in the STEM school is that it will be expected to happen in all classrooms on a daily basis.
In order to ensure the teachers who will be staffing the STEM school have the necessary skills, the school district hired STEM consultants from the firm KnowAtom.
“KnowAtom is a Massachusetts-based curriculum development and consulting company. Superintendent Polansky said they chose this company because they were most impressed with what they had to offer in terms of curriculum and support. They are paying the consulting company through a grant.
Over this summer, teachers throughout the district will be participating in curriculum writing with guidance from KnowAtom consulting company. District teachers who are not part of the STEM school may participate in the curriculum writing as well.
According to Superintendent Polansky and representatives from the KnowAtom company, the school district will be provided with a complete, standards-based curriculum that is accompanied by prepared materials and professional development. The system is designed to support the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards. KnowAtom claims that they equip teachers to direct fun, hands-on, inquiry lessons in which students master the Scientific Processes and the Engineering Design Process. The company claims to provide materials that help students gain a scientific perspective and develop critical thinking skills, as they use real tools and apply first-hand knowledge to answer scientific questions and solve technological challenges.
At the July 2 BOE meeting, school district officials were still not sure if they would receive the multimillion dollar grants that they applied for. It is possible that they will not know if they will be receiving the funds until sometime in September. After careful consideration, they decided to move forward with the opening of the school. They feel that they are in a position to provide a strong STEM program with or without the additional grant money. KnowAtom’s curriculum allows inquiry lab science and engineering without building costly science lab facilities.
Another motivating factor in the decision to move forward was to avoid a major transition in the middle of the school year. Superintendent Polansky kept his promise that he would not move students after the school year began. If they decided to wait, that could potentially mean having to make a choice between turning down millions in grant money or moving students mid year. Making the decision to open in September avoids that. Regarding the status of the grant Polansky stated, “the best that they can tell me is that this could happen anytime over the summer but there is a strong possibility that they will not announce it until the end of the federal fiscal year which ends September 30.”
Superintendent Polansky explained that he sees this as a outstanding opportunity for the entire school district. He sees this as a way to advance the way STEM is taught both at the new school and throughout the entire district.
Polansky’s background is in science. It is not unreasonable to speculate that he would have moved in this direction in any school district he supervised.
Hosting the STEM program at the Jack Abrams school is not a sign of revitalization nor a statement for or against the safety of a neighborhood. It is not a sign that any improvements were made to address safety concerns of years past. It is not a sign that politicians kept their campaign promises to address the safety in the area. They did not. This idea did not come from the town or any consulting firm they hired. It came from an innovative Superintendent and a supportive BOE.
Opening of this school is a way to address the commonly held belief that Science needs to be taught in a hands on way. It addresses the need to be more competitive with other countries in the areas of math, science, engineering and technology.
It is a way for the district to stay cutting edge in the way it educates students. The Superintendent’s intention it that this teaching style will filter throughout the entire district.
While they await the grant, they will cut costs by functioning without hiring a Principal for the building. Superintendent Polansky or Dr. Card will be listed as the building’s Principal. In addition to Polansky and Card, other in house administrators will play a role in the day to day operation of the building.
If additional funding is obtained it will be used for hiring additional coaches, lab upgrades, Summer “extended learning” and parent university programs.
If the grant is not received, the school will continue to function. Superintendent Polansky made it clear that this is not a temporary situation. He explained that the critical components are in place and will continue to be through other grants including SED STLE 1, VAP, SIG, legislative bullet aid, etc. These grant cover the professional development and curriculum resource costs.
In addition to the grants mentioned above, they will also seek to gain corporate sponsorship.
The teachers necessary to staff the building are already here. They will not be hiring additional teachers.
Polansky stated, “we have also applied for two additional federal i3 grants and state STLE 2 grant, which we should hear about shortly as well. While no grant monies are guaranteed, we will continue in our grant pursuit for all district programs.”