STEAMing ahead into the future

Jerabek Elementary School Principal Dr. Angelia Watkins cuts a ribbon to signify the opening of the school’s STEAM Lab. (courtesy of Rebecca Kelley)

STEAMing ahead into the future

Jerabek Elementary School has taken its academic experience to the next level. Bridging an ever-growing technology educational gap, the new Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Lab was unveiled at Jerabek Elementary School on May 2. The celebration was marked with a ribbon cutting ceremony and testimonials from students, parents and faculty about the importance of the new lab.

Parents were the driving force behind the fundraising efforts to bring the lab to fruition, and raised more than $150,000 in equipment, furniture, materials, flooring and wall structures. The lab consists of a 2,500 square foot space that includes a robotics room, a makerspace, a quiet room, a messy room and an audio-visual lab.

A group of parents with backgrounds in STEAM fields initiated the effort to build the lab at Jerabek. Terra Norine of Troxel Communications was one of these parents and works to build STEAM Labs in schools across the country. Norine gave her time and resources to build the lab at Jerabek. She said it took about a year and a half to get the lab up and running because of her goal to make it state of the art.

“I sat down and built out a scope and sequence for each grade level so that the skills they are learning in kindergarten are giving them the tools needed for when they get into first grade and so on,” Norine said.

According to Norine, they placed their focus on robotics and coding. She took what they were already learning in the classroom and applied it to be more interactive and project-based in the lab.

At Jerabek, classroom curricula cannot be mandated. Instead, all teachers elected to participate. Each teacher learned aspects of coding and robotics. Dr. Angelia Watkins, principal at Jerabek, said the teachers are what make the STEAM Lab at Jerabek special.

“Our teachers have decided to take it upon themselves to learn the new curriculum, which is phenomenal. This is above and beyond what they are already teaching,” Watkins said.

The influence of the teachers and their newly learned curriculum has been influential in creating an environment where students are highly engaged in their own learning, Watkins said.

“Once the teachers are in that lab, they are more like facilitators,” she explained. “The students drive the lesson. Once students know they get to be the conductor of their learning, they are more engaged.”

Students of all ages, ranging from five to 11, are enamored with the STEAM Lab. Avi Lefkowitz, fifth grader at Jerabek, said he was inspired by what he has learned in the lab to continue on the STEAM path in middle school.

“My favorite subject right now, other than P.E., is probably STEAM. It’s really fun to work with my partner,” Lefkowitz said. “It’s interesting to have that relationship and we can become friends because before STEAM, my partner and I didn’t really know each other. I think it’s really great that my teacher puts us together boy, girl. It just creates a really cool program.”

Watkins said the lab will set students up for STEAM careers and success in the future.

“The younger you start students out with engineering and things of that nature, then they are not afraid later. It sets them up for the next level,” she said. “If we can instill that in them here in the elementary, just think of what they can do in middle school and beyond.”

According to Watkins, the teachers will continue to push the envelope with the curriculum through training at the University of San Diego, partnering with other teachers who also have STEAM labs and every year making sure the rigor is more challenging.

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