Richland School District Two’s $4.4 million magnet grant brings STEAM-based education to students, administrators say

Richland Two School Board members learned the results of a federally funded, multimillion-dollar Magnet School Assistance Program grant awarded to the district last year that has funded several engineering and technology programs.

The principals of Killian Elementary, Longleaf Middle and Westwood High schools explained how their schools have begun to use the funds to collaborate on curriculum that follows magnet students from primary to secondary level of education.

“We want to bring an excellent theme to our schools and our continuum,” said Arlene Bakutes, the district’s grant coordinator.

Richland Two was awarded the $4.4 million grant last September. The grant was designed to encourage students to study science, technology, art and mathematics as the U.S. Department of Education and President Barack Obama’s administration has promoted next-generation careers in these subjects.

Killian Elementary, Longleaf Middle and Westwood High were selected by district administrators to create a magnet continuum program between the schools.

Each school has benefited from the funds to expand their existing magnet programs and create partnerships with local organizations, universities and businesses to provide real world applications of STEAM concepts to students.

“We want to prepare each and every student academically for the 21st century,” said Westwood High Principal Ralph Schmidt.

Each school devises a curriculum through the grant for its particular grade level of students, but the schools ensure that students are prepared for the next level of the program when they move to one of the other schools.

Killian Elementary uses the Engineering Is Elementary curriculum designed by the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass. Assistant Principal Tan Benson explained that the students begin to develop an engineering mindset when assessing problems and creating solutions.

Beginning in fall 2014, Killian students will have access to an engineering and robotics lab to participate in STEM competitions, said Benson. For the arts component, students will be able to study strings and drums, as well as graphic design on MAC computers.

USC students trained in Engineering Is Elementary also assist teachers and students in class work.

Longleaf Middle students focus on engineering and technology, developing partnerships with EdVenture Museum and the Columbia Museum of Art to provide educational opportunities related to STEAM. Professionals have also been invited to the school to mentor students through projects, Principal Angela Thom told board members.

Westwood High students have the opportunity to earn college credit for some STEAM-based classes. Schmidt said the school has a memorandum with Clemson University so students can receive introductory course credit for engineering classes taken at the high school.

Schmidt hopes to execute similar agreements with the University of South Carolina and Midlands Technical College in the future.

The school also bought a slow motion machine for the sports broadcasting class, sought out apprenticeship opportunities for students and recently competed in its first robotics competition.

“Westwood came away 34th with very little experience in robotics,” said Schmidt.

Longleaf Middle and Westwood High schools use the Paxton Patterson program, a STEAM-based curriculum that focuses on project-based learning in the classroom. Killian Elementary and Longleaf Middle also look to add digital keyboarding to their course selections this fall.

The magnet grant ends in 2016, giving the schools less than two years of funding remaining. Bakutes said the magnet programs at each school would be sustainable once the grant expires but that the federal government could offer a one-year carryover of any leftover funds for the district to use.

Bakutes also said the district is embarking on an aggressive recruitment campaign to ensure that students in non-traditional school settings such as home school, virtual school or charter school, could have the opportunity to participate in the magnet programs.

“We’re trying to tap those parents who no longer or never have gone to our schools,” she said.

Categories: Education