Hopewell Elementary opens STEM classroom
By Steven Hoffman
Great opportunities await Hopewell Elementary School students as the Oxford Area School District officially opened a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) classroom for fifth- and sixth-graders on June 1.
The classroom is equipped with a 3-D printer, iPads, Apple TV, microscopes, and other state-of-the-art equipment.
“We’re very excited to have this technology in the hands of the students,” explained Dr. Nicole Addis, the principal of the Hopewell Elementary School. The classroom is intended to introduce the elementary students to STEM concepts and hands-on experiments and research that will set them on a career path.
Oxford offers a Project Lead The Way program that focuses on STEM coursework at the high school, and there is a Gateway program at Penn’s Grove Middle School. Administrators and teachers were very enthusiastic about now being able to introduce fifth- and sixth-graders to STEM concepts as a way to prepare them for the future.
“You don’t see many STEM programs at the elementary school level,” Addis explained. “Fifth and sixth grade is a great time to introduce students to problem-solving concepts, and it gives us the foundation to spread this throughout the district.”
David Woods, the superintendent of schools, said that many of the careers that students will be seeking require a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math. He compared the current push to improve STEM education in public schools to what occurred in the early 1960s when President John F. Kennedy challenged public schools to increase science education, and called on NASA to aim for the moon.
Woods and assistant superintendent Dr. Margaret Billings-Jones have been strong advocates of increasing educational opportunities for students.
At the opening, the Hopewell Elementary students were already demonstrating their abilities. Garrett Brady and Emiliano Zetune were constructing a K’ Nex roller coaster, while Jac Conner, a sixth-grader, was working on building a robotics forklift.
The STEM classroom became a possibility, Addis said, because of a $5,000 John C. Pittenger Grant from the Oxford Educational Foundation. That started the process, and then Billings-Jones secured a grant for STEM programming in the district. The Oxford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) also provided additional funding to purchase equipment and materials.
Addis said that a teacher will be brought in to teach STEM programming to students. All the students in the building will see that teacher and utilize the classroom at least once in every six-day cycle, if not more often. The district is also always bringing in professionals from the community who work in science or engineering careers to talk to students.
“I think it would be so exciting to be the teacher of this classroom,” Addis said. “This is about our students, seeing them in action, and giving them as many opportunities as possible.”
Steve Roberts, the President of the Oxford Educational Foundation, is a retired mechanical engineer. He said that the students will benefit greatly from practicing the scientific method in the classroom.
“With this classroom, we will get students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math,” he explained.
The John C. Pittenger Grant is a competitive one, and Hopewell Elementary was selected to receive the funding this year because of the merits of the STEM classroom for fifth- and sixth-graders.
Dr. Raymond Fischer, a former superintendent of schools for Oxford who is now the executive director of the Oxford Educational Foundation, said that Pittenger would love seeing the results of the grant program that is named after him.
“He would be very happy to see this,” Fischer said, explaining that Pittenger and Dick Winchester, among others, were responsible for founding the Oxford Educational Foundation more than 25 years ago. “We’ve got several organizations coming together to make a project a reality. The Oxford Educational Foundation board is pleased that we can provide funding for this initiative.”
Etha McDowell serves on the committee that evaluated the requests for funding through the John C. Pittenger Grant. She said that there were many positives to bringing STEM programs to elementary school students.
“The proposal that we received from Dr. Addis was very good,” McDowell explained.
Addis thanked the Oxford Educational Foundation for making the funding available.
“The John Pittenger grant has given Oxford students opportunities,” she said, adding that it’s very important that the community is supportive of educational initiatives likes this. The principal also thanked the school district’s PTO organization, which helps Oxford students in many different ways.
Chrissy Peabody, the president of the Oxford PTO president, said that the organization was proud to be able to support Oxford students. She also talked about having the whole community involved.
Even though the school year is quickly coming to a close, John Barcus, a math and science teacher at the school, was extremely excited about the possibility of incorporating STEM lessons into the curriculum for his students.
Addis said that Barcus, who has 24 years of experience as an educator, is always looking for new ideas that engage students. There will be plenty of opportunities to engage students in the STEM classroom.
Barcus said that while planning is still taking place to determine exactly how the STEM curriculum will be incorporated at the school, and how the classroom will be utilized by teachers and students, it will certainly be beneficial for students to go through engineering process. He expects that students will be challenged to start with an idea and end up with a working product. It wasn’t that long ago that students would mainly be relying on textbooks to learn the sciences, but there has been a major shift toward hands-on learning that incorporates real-world scientific and engineering practices.
“You really have to learn by doing,” Barcus said.
That’s great for students like Gabby Clark, a sixth-grader. Clark, who wants to be a surgeon one day, said that math and science classes are very important to her. She’ll be moving on to the Penn’s Grove Middle School, where there is a Gateway Program to Project Lead The Way. While she won't be able to use the STEM classroom at Hopewell Elementary herself, Clark said that fifth- and sixth-graders will really benefit from it.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for students,” she said.
Barcus talked about how important it is to get students interested in math and science and technology, and to guide them toward the careers that will be available to them.
“We need all the promising talent to get in to those careers,” Barcus said. “We need to promote the science and technology as much as possible.”
Billings-Jones echoed Addis’ comments about the importance of community support to provide as many opportunities as possible for Oxford students. “If we have great teachers and administrators, and we have that community support, we can do wonderful things for our students,” she said.