This school year, St. Joseph School in Batavia will be one of the diocesan schools that has been selected to begin a new STREAM initiative. The acronym STREAM, which stands for science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics, is a modified version of the STEM initiative that is being implemented in many public school districts throughout the state of New York.
Principal Karen Green said St. Joseph had applied to be one of these 10 schools because all Diocese of Buffalo schools were given an opportunity to do so if interested in piloting the new STREAM Academy, a main component of this initiative, for the 2014-15 school year.
"We knew right away that it was something that we wanted to apply for, and were hoping that we'd be chosen for, and we just were very lucky that that was the case," Green said.
Green said the STREAM program is important for two reasons, the first of which is because it can help children learn about science, technology, arts, engineering, and other subjects crucial for elementary school students to know in the 21st century. Secondly, the fact that most of the grade levels have only one class, with the exception of the sixth and eighth grades, means greater cooperation.
"I think the collaboration among my staff and my faculty is what I'm most excited about, because they'll be working together. Our kids will be working together, and some of our special area teachers, they're going to be engrossed in these activities, too, and then bringing some of their expertise to the game for all of our teachers, which I think is going to be great," Green said. "I think the collaboration was a big thing, and I think it's something that's important for our kids. They need to experience activities like this."
The activities will take place on Monday afternoons as an additional period after the regular school day ends, and it will enable all the grade levels to come together. At the end of August, all teachers and classroom aides attended a training session to help prepare them for the fall. The school has purchased equipment necessary to implement the new activities and has begun increased collaboration between the grade level and special area teachers to prepare them for the new lesson plans.
As of early August, the goal of integrating school subjects led to the creation of three lessons to enable the art teacher at St. Joseph to work in tandem with the physical education and music teachers. Green said, "We've been working on lesson plans so when they come back in the fall, the teachers will have some ideas. What we're doing is we're looking at the curriculum that each grade level covers, and we're finding ways that our special area teachers can make (the lessons) more exciting."
For example, students in a music class might learn about the music of a specific time period while their physical education incorporates activities that were done in that era. Additionally, an art project could incorporate a historical figure while social studies classes are also learning more about that person. This, Green said, is a more hands-on approach to learning. The period for STREAM activities is during a time when students had previously been let out early for the religious education program, but religious education has been moved to Sundays and the students will be in class for the extra hour.
"It actually really hasn't changed our day too much, and we're very fortunate," Green added. "We felt it was really important that all of our kids be involved in this. We didn't want to just do a grade level here and there, and we did not want our bus students to be missing out on activities at the beginning or end of the day, so we worked to make sure we are going to be providing this every week and for every kid."
On Aug. 27, the school held events where eighth graders studied robotics, seventh graders participated in a future city competition and sixth graders held an "Invention Convention." The students in younger grades completed a "Primary Engineering Adventure Program." The STREAM program will eventually include parent volunteers, and parents were notified of the later dismissals on Mondays.
"It's going to be such creative thinking for our kids, great hands-on learning, (with) tons of technology involved. It can only help prepare them for high school and college down the road, and that's what we really want," Green said. "I think we've always had strong programming, so I think this only adds to that. I'm really excited about that." Although St. Joseph sometimes struggles with affording items on a limited budget, the school has worked with companies and organizations willing to support the STREAM program, which will help to keep the costs of running this new initiative low, according to Green.