Jersey Shore Elementary School creating STEAMlab for students

PHOTO PROVIDED Two students from Jersey Shore Elementary School stacking Keva planks purchased by the STEAM committee.

JERSEY SHORE — Last January, after receiving two, $500 Exxon Mobil grants, the principals at Jersey Shore Elementary School, Adrienne Johnston and Jennifer Berry-Propst, formed a STEAM Committee with grade level representatives to share their vision of creating a STEAMlab. The STEAMlab would be the “gathering spot” for providing resources and materials that would foster a hands-on approach to learning five main curricular areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics. The Committee, which has now grown to encompass 14 members, consisting of grade-level representatives, elementary specialists in music and art, district librarian and gifted education teacher, and Jersey Shore Elementary PTO president, responded to the shared vision with enthusiasm.

A handful of committee members volunteered to visit Donald E. Schick Elementary School, housed in the Loyal sock Township School District, in July, to visit their Iplay lab, which was developed a few years ago. They returned with excitement and continued plans to re-vamp an old computer lab to house the new STEAMlab.

With district support and donations for paint and supplies from the Sherwin Williams, in Williamsport, and the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), Mr. Welshans, a fourth grade teacher at Jersey Shore Elementary School, accompanied by his son, high school student Riley Welshans, painted the STEAMlab, adding vibrant bursts of color to each wall. Resources and materials began filling refurbished bookshelves.

The grade level representatives on the STEAM Committee used the grant funds received from Exxon Mobil to launch phase one of the project. Other resources were purchased from previous grant funds received through the Jersey Shore Educational Foundation, which has been a vital source of support for advocating to attain funds to help expand the inventory available for teachers and students.

Committee member, Brenda Neufer, third grade teacher at Jersey Shore Elementary School, pursued one of the STEM on the Move site grants, offered through a partnership of PAsmart and Mansfield University, which would allow the committee to purchase 800 Keva planks, Keva Brain Builder task cards, and seven sets of 76-piece Joinks. Early in October, JSE received the good news.

PHOTO PROVIDED These young ladies have this balancing act down with Joinks.

“I was ecstatic when I first learned that I was successful in obtaining the grant! My thoughts went right to a visual image of students smiling with curiosity, while creating sculptures out of Joinks and Keva planks in our STEAM lab,” exclaimed Neufer.

While pursuing other grants and funding sources, the committee has their sights set on expanding access to the curriculum materials in the STEAMlab. At this time, teachers at Jersey Shore Elementary School can either sign out materials or sign up to take their classes to the STEAMlab. The technology department is working behind the scenes to transfer the inventory to a site that would allow teachers from Avis and Salladasburg Elementary Schools to sign out materials through a lending library system.

Blast Intermediate Unit 17 has also been a source of support for this next step and committee members are taking advantage of their Innovation and Technology Collaborative, which “provides a collaborative network with other districts who are pursuing goals to implement and develop innovative, creative and technologically-rich curriculum and instructional practices.”

District librarian Katie Wert has also been a change agent to help the district expand access to STEAM curriculum and materials by instituting Makerspaces in the elementary libraries.

“The community can celebrate that we are encouraging a learning environment that allows students to “tinker” by providing materials that engage students in hands-on activities that teach 21st Century skills,” stated Berry-Propst. Currently, due to the Mansfield University Grant, we have enough “Joinks” for students to work in teams to tackle challenges, such as building the highest structure or to build a structure that could be used for housing. Two other building-type materials will be included in the rotation between the three elementary schools.

What is the committee’s next vision, related to inspiring STEAM curriculum and instruction?

It’s a Lego Wall.

The Lego Wall Project will provide hands-on experiences in the STEAMlab.

Jersey Shore Elementary learned in December that they were the recipient of Exxon’s Educational Alliance Program. The $500 grant, to be used for STEM related educational programs, was from Exxon, in Jersey Shore. Exxon’s grant will go towards the construction of the Lego Wall, which is estimated to be $473.00. Jersey Shore High School students, in Heath Rager’s Career and Technical Education Class, will be handling the construction of the Lego Wall. The STEAM Committee at Jersey Shore Elementary, in partnership with the PTO, will be seeking matching funds to purchase the Legos, Lego sets, and any additional materials for the Lego Wall Project.

The STEAMlab is heavily used after hours. Johnston attained a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant late last spring that has allowed the district to offer an after school program that provides academic enrichment programs for students in grades 1-5 for 2.5 hour per day, five days a week. Students currently participate in programs and activities that support literacy intervention, math intervention, STEAM activities, physical education, health and nutrition, library access, and homework help.

Walking by the STEAMlab photo gallery, it is evident that the school has been able to increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. The photos capture the intent faces of students working collaboratively on various STEAM challenges. The Jersey Area School District school board, administrators, teachers, and students thank the families, local businesses, the Jersey Shore Area Schools Education Foundation, local intermediate unit, and higher education forums that are supporting STEAM curriculum initiatives. This broad terminal of support has allowed us to fast-track our initial vision and develop a solid foundation to further expand access to our STEAM resources and materials and simultaneously elevate student engagement in learning.