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Bremerton’s STEM school to open this fall

Lisa Heaman, Bremerton
Lisa Heaman, Bremerton's STEM school principal stands next to a teacher-painted mural in one hall of the soon-to-open academy-based neighborhood school.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Although she is having a fun summer that has included camping with her family, 11-year-old Emma Bugg can’t wait for school to start.

“I’m looking forward to it because we will get to do technology, science, engineering and other stuff like that,” she said.

Emma will be one of about 60 of the first-time sixth graders to attend West Hills Elementary in the Bremerton School District as it turns into a STEM school emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math.

The former kindergarten through fifth grade school will, in September, be adding the STEM curriculum to fifth and the newly added sixth grade.

Just as students like Emma are excited for the school year to begin, so are their parents.

Linda Bugg, Emma’s mother, said the influence of science and technology and their connection to real life situations can have a positive influence on students, especially young girls.

“Girls are not discouraged but they are not encouraged to go into those fields,” Linda Bugg said. “This is going to give girls more of an opportunity to get a feel for different careers and say ‘Oh, I can do that. I can do this.’ I’m very excited for that.”

The school day will be arranged so that there will be isolated reading and math instruction in the mornings followed by the afternoons revolving around a theme in STEM.

Some days, the students may also work with other teachers or on group projects combining the fifth and sixth graders together.

Since the winter, teachers have created study units that revolve around a central question that use current science and social studies curriculum, said Amy Archuleta, instructional coach with the school. They have planned lessons for each week of the entire year.

“They didn’t create something from nothing,” Archuleta said. “And they connect how everything will be related to each other.”

Archuleta gave the example that one STEM theme is “innovations” and a question to follow would be, “How do you invent something to help with flooding problems?” The class would learn about how flooding situations were addressed in early America to get the history component tied in. Local engineers may also contribute to the lesson by demonstrating current solutions to the class.

Engineers from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard have already been volunteering at West Hills for about the past three years and will continue to be present in the classrooms.

Having people from outside the school doors enhances to the learning.

“It’s nice to see people that work in those fields. And then students can relate to that huge old question. ‘Why do we need to learn this?’” said Corinne Beach, a nuclear engineer and the outreach coordinator with the shipyard. “We can maybe bring other ideas to the classroom.”

Into the field

In addition to having others come to their classrooms, students will have monthly “field experiences” where they will see what they learn at school demonstrated in real life situations.

There are plans to hike Gold Mountain — once in the fall and once in the spring to see the environment in two seasons, visit the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and IslandWood on Bainbridge.

Aside from the STEM curriculum itself that will be new to the school, there will be other changes.

“It’s almost like the school closed and is reopening and is brand new,” Principal Lisa Heaman said.

The school name itself will get a makeover and will either be called West Hills Academy School of STEM, Bremerton STEM Academy or West Hills Academy of STEM. The official name will be determined at the Aug. 18 school board meeting.

There will also be a new mascot, school colors and encouraged dress code. Students voted on the the griffon as the new mascot. The old mascot was a bear.

Different variations of griffon drawings hang on the wall outside of the main office as Heaman wanted students to be involved with the creation of their “new” school.

The encouraged dress code is khaki bottoms with a navy blue or turquoise top. These colors are the new school colors.

“It’s an organic home-grown endeavor,” said Heaman, adding that besides participation from students, there had been organized meetings for parents and the district has been supportive.

Because one of the main concerns students had was not being able to play sports, three sessions of intramural sports will be an after school option, said Heaman.

The whole idea to become a STEM school began when Superintendent Lester “Flip” Herndon encouraged the district to apply for a $2 million U.S. Department of Education grant a year ago. Although the district did not receive the grant, the idea to implement a STEM program continued.

West Hills would have added grades six through eight from the beginning had the federal grant been awarded. Now, they will move forward year by year.

In September, there will be three classes of fifth grade and two classes of sixth grade. Heaman said enrollment for sixth grade is full and there still remains to be a few spots for fifth grade.

The following school year the STEM program will be added to fourth grade and a newly added seventh grade. By 2013, the program will expand to third grade through the lastly added eighth grade.

There are no additional costs for the STEM program because the district would normally be buying supplies for curriculum to support these students anyway, said Patty Glaser, district spokeswoman.

Now, the students will just be at the site of the STEM school. She added that a portion of the superintendent’s budget — less than $15,000 — is going toward new engineering curriculum and professional development including visiting other STEM schools.

Glaser and Heaman both said that by establishing the school as a STEM academy now, it may be easier to receive other grants in the future.

There is no state accreditation to become a STEM school, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Schools self-identify themselves through STEM instruction such as integration and project-based learning or from school and student achievement data, he said.

Although STEM curriculum is not restricted to secondary education, it is more commonly seen there.

“Because STEM-related instruction is perhaps more identifiable at the secondary level, more schools appear there,” Olson said.

Even though West Hills will be implementing the STEM program to younger students than what is more common throughout the state, Heaman, administrators and parents don’t have any concerns.

“We’re very excited — to see the new opportunities,” Linda Bugg

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