IRMO, SC – It’s early September, and CrossRoads Intermediate School is teeming with activity: two students ponder the artistry in a set of 3-D printers. A few feet down the hall, a group of teachers discuss a new school club where students will create new board games. Around another corner, students in a math class use paper to draw patterns and construct three-dimensional shapes.
“Welcome to STEAM education,” said CrossRoads Intermediate Principal Jess Hutchison.
While STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – has been a hot topic in the educational sector for several years, school leaders in Lexington-Richland School District Five say they see a value in broadening the focus to include communications and other arts-based disciplines. CrossRoads Intermediate School is piloting a STEAM program this school year, and other schools also have implemented STEAM lessons in classrooms across the district.
“We changed our name from CrossRoads Middle to CrossRoads Intermediate this school year, but the most significant change is not the signage outside but the exciting things that are happening inside our classrooms with STEAM,” Hutchinson said. “To us, the ‘A’ in STEAM represents performing arts, visual arts and the humanities. I think a lot of people in education now realize that there still needs to be a focus on being able to communicate properly, on being able to collaborate and present information….A STEAM approach includes this in all classes, for all students and prepares them for 21st century jobs.”
Morning classroom meetings now include a biweekly STEAM activity, and teachers work in “interdisciplinary teams” to create cross-curriculum lessons that weave academic disciplines together, like art and math or science and language arts. On “STEAM Fridays,” students in the school participate in more than 40 clubs added this school year to blend STEM concepts with arts. Trash Can Band, drama, sewing, even a Rubik’s Cube club are provided to expose students to STEAM, school leaders say.
“The arts have been added to help students develop creative thought, collaboration and empathy…which are all key in innovation,” said CrossRoads Intermediate Assistant Principal for Instruction Tara Safriet. “The skills that students need, those in the state’s Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, include the ability to speak and articulate learning, the ability to work with others, be collaborative…We’ve always provided quality academics, and our new clubs and STEAM focus lends itself to sharpening critical cross-curricula skills.”
Formerly CrossRoads Middle School, the newly named CrossRoads Intermediate School received top ratings on both the latest federal and state accountability systems. The school still houses sixth grade students from the 10 elementary schools that come together to form CrossRoads Intermediate’s student body. Twenty-nine teachers at the school have their National Board Certification, and a teacher and three students from the school were named grand prize winners of the 2015 Belk Service Learning Challenge.
CrossRoads’ STEAM program is a school-wide program, a change from the original plan, Hutchinson said. “Students originally had to sign up for the STEAM program…We received so much interest that we just decided to make it a school-wide initiative, impacting all students and all staff. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
For teachers like Kimberly Chavis, Allison Blanchard and Deborah Batson, the STEAM program has challenged both students and teachers.
“It’s definitely made me think about all the subjects combined. For example my class was doing quadrants, and we used Roman numerals to do quadrants,” Chavis said. “The kids asked me things about that, and I was able to tie in information from their social studies class…We (teachers) are just making a really conscious effort to make sure we incorporate all the different subjects in our classes.”
Blanchard, who teaches social studies, added: “For those students that are a little more creative in arts, it helps them express themselves and take interest in all subjects. And for students who take an interest in traditional STEM courses, it makes them look at their learning in a different way,” said Blanchard, a social studies teacher. “It’s a win-win for the students and teachers.”
The focus is on bringing everything together and letting students know that “engineering doesn’t just happen in math. Math doesn’t just happen in math class,” said Batson, a language arts teacher, who will co-sponsor a board game club with Chavis. “Those connections are important in making learning applicable and sparking new ideas. We want to see what they can create…the problems they can solve.”
Students are already enjoying the new STEAM implementation. Working on prosthetic hands in an Intro to STEM class, Alyssa McFarland and Hailey Blessing say they are well aware of the school’s new STEAM focus and how it can help them narrow down possible career choices.
“I’m interested in science, and I want to do something that brings joy to people…this is kind of like both,” said McFarland, an avid painter and artist who is interested in becoming a doctor. “I actually didn’t sign up for STEAM, so I’m glad it’s been spread to all classes.”
“I have never done anything like this before, but I wanted to try something new and have an adventure,” said Blessing, who thought she would have to choose between the STEM class and an art course before the school-wide implementation. “My favorite subjects have always been science and art…Now, I don’t have to choose.”
This was the intent of STEAM at CrossRoads Intermediate, giving students exposure to all content areas and making connections from class to class, educators said.
“I think students especially at this age sometimes think you learn it in this room, you do it in this room, and that’s the only place it applies,” Chavis said. “But if you can get them to connect learning from classroom to classroom, you can get them to connect it outside of school, into real life, into next year and beyond.”