EducationPrivate Schools

STE(A)M Programs in Atlanta
Preparing Atlanta’s Students for Tomorrow

Pictured above: Trinity School

Careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM)  continue to be the fastest-growing occupations in the United States, but with reports showing a large percentage of those occupations will go unfilled by the year 2020, it has become important for K-12 schools to introduce these areas of study to students at an early age.

Several metro Atlanta private schools are offering a number of STEAM-related programs in their schools to hopefully offset the future career gaps and better prepare their students for professions in these areas. Some are also incorporating arts education into their STEM programs adding the “A” in STEAM. Learn more about four of these school programs below.

Greater Atlanta Christian School

Brian Dolinger, Greater Atlanta Christian’s junior high principal who also works in the STEM Advance Office, says they have begun an intentional focus on their STEAM development in the past year — adding the arts to their STEM curriculum.

“Our current focus is to further enhance the amazing learning taking place in our schools in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,” Dolinger says. “Through this initiative, GAC has and will continue to dedicate great resources to renovating our facilities, the purchase of new, state-of-the-art equipment and the development and hiring of specialized, dedicated, highly-effective faculty members. All of these improvements are focused on better preparing our students for the ever-changing world of tomorrow.”

Dolinger goes on to say that Greater Atlanta Christian has a history of developing a STEAM curriculum for students, but they are seeing benefits from the school’s recent advances in these areas. “Our students leverage powerful technological tools (MacBook Air laptops and iPads) everyday as an integrated part of their learning,” he says. “Our elementary students explore the world through our Environmental Learning Center. Creativity and problem-solving are fostered and developed in our Junior High MakerSpace.”

Students also participate in real-world experimentations and discovery through a variety of courses, including anatomy and physiology, marine biology, robotics, computer science, environmental science, calculus and multi-variable analysis. Redesigned in 2015, the school’s Center for Art and Design also stands as an inspiration and catalyst both for the development of budding artists and for nationally recognized student artwork. Renovations are currently underway in the newly named SciTech building; and new, specialized classrooms will be available this fall to students, including the engineering and robotics lab. Additionally, Dolinger says, a full renovation and expansion is planned for the Fields Science Hall in 2017.

“We desire our students to be fully equipped and inspired to launch into the future, ready to change the world. We desire them to develop their creative confidence, to find and solve the problems around them and around the world, to possess a bias toward discovery, risk and innovation, and to do so in a way that shows the love of Christ to world,” Dolinger concludes. “Upon graduating from GAC, our students will possess these skills and dispositions in addition to their strong academic and spiritual foundation, poised to tackle their next life chapter.”

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

“Mount Vernon Presbyterian School is positioning its students beyond the basic preparation of coursework. Rather, the school is teaching students how to learn by engaging the senses through open discussions and discovery, listening to feedback, empathizing, building prototypes and simply trying something new — all to establish the framework for college, a career and life,” says Allison Toller, the school’s chief of brand strategy and partnerships.

“This particular method of learning, Design Thinking, developed by Stanford University’s Institute of Design, is the cornerstone of Mount Vernon’s program of study,” Toller adds. “Our students identify real-world issues, collaborate through research, test their results and produce prototypes to impact the world.”

Mount Vernon introduced design thinking in its lower school in early 2009. It has permeated the entire campus, from preschool to the upper school. In fact, Mount Vernon has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in the movement. “Over time,” Toller says, “design thinking has evolved into the MV-branded program of study known as iDesign, which encompasses the school’s signature programs: Maker, iProject, iDiploma and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (MVIFI).”

Maker: Students use their imaginations to create (with real tools, equipment and materials) products that solve real-world problems. In doing so, students learn multiple disciplines through design thinking and building.

iProject: Each year, upper school students embark on a year-long project, leveraging content and skills from all disciplines to make a measurable impact in a contemporary local, national or global issue. Students observe, question, empathize, experiment, craft and implement innovations in a variety of fields and contexts.

Innovation Diploma: A step deeper from iProject, high school students have the opportunity to earn a diploma in their field of study.

MVIFI: The institute serves as the research and design arm of the school, where faculty and staff go to enrich, innovate through professional learning, action research, field study and hands-on experimentation.

Pace Academy

Dr. Kirsten Boehner, Pace Academy’s director of STEAM and design, acts as a resource for the school’s teachers working in this space. In addition to teaching STEM and design in the middle school, her role includes researching content, tools and processes in STEAM, as well as makerspaces (places where someone can share their do-in-yourself process, search for inspiration or connect with fellow makers) and design initiatives around the world; collaborating with Pace teachers to co-design new curricula; and drawing on local and global networks to cultivate contexts and relationships for teachers and students to explore and develop.

Boehner says STEAM is a relatively new term for Pace, although the school has always been strong in these disciplines. “Recently, however, we have begun to draw out these principles more formally,” she adds. “For example, we are actively working to carve out more time and space for our teachers to collaborate more across their individual disciplines. We have created an Action Studio, a shared space for teachers to bring their classes or for students to congregate outside of class in order to explore questions, test assumptions, experiment with ideas and ultimately move from awareness toward action.”

Pace’s Isdell Center for Global Leadership (ICGL) is part of the school’s STEAM momentum. The ICGL’s mandate is to develop 21st century leaders, and STEAM principles and practices are key attributes for this end,” Boehner adds. Their pursuit of STEAM from within the ICGL is rooted in more than just a desire to remain globally competitive, but responding to what is globally necessary. “The themes that underpin the ICGL’s focus of study each year, such as water, food, climate, articulate issues that transcend boundaries and defy clear cut solutions.

“The themes require multiple perspectives and collaboration across a range of skillsets for understanding the range of intertwining stakeholders and forces at play. For our students to be effective leaders both today and tomorrow, they need opportunities to practice seeing, working and collaborating across disciplinary boundaries and experimenting with what is required to understand and make an impact in critical issues both locally and globally.”

Trinity School

The STEAM program at Trinity School is an integral part of what they do in every classroom, says Marsha Harris, the school’s director of curriculum.

“Specialist teachers collaborate with classroom teachers so that true integration occurs. Under the direction of our certified engineer, STEAM also plays a major role in our Innovation Hub (iHub), which was established in 2014. The iHub is a working lab where all Trinity students, ages 3 through sixth grade, explore the problems that we face and seek solutions for them through a design and engineering perspective. Our science, art and technology specialists also play an integral role in leading our faculty and students through meaningful and relevant experiences to deepen understanding of particular concepts.”

Harris says STEAM is a priority at Trinity because it provides opportunities for everyone to see the connections between all subjects. “It empowers students to seek solutions through a variety of perspectives and encourages innovation. We believe that this is a journey that our students need to be comfortable with, and we teach them to be resilient enough to know that innovation requires much iteration.”

She adds that the learning principles taught in STEAM focus on the “Four Cs,” which are collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. “Putting isolated academic skills aside, the ability to work effectively with one another, share ideas and think differently and deeply definitely prepares our young students for their future academic careers.”

Renowned for its innovation and leadership in STEAM, local school leaders, and those from as far away as New Zealand, have visited the campus to gain a deeper understanding of what they do at Trinity and why the program is successful. “As an elementary-only school, we are leading the charge and preparing our students to seek solutions to issues facing us today by utilizing creative and critical thinking skills developed through STEAM,” concludes Harris.