Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez, Superintendent of Forest Park School District 91 in Forest Park, Illinois
For the first 13 years of my teaching career, I was a science teacher with a dream – to provide my students with a dedicated STEM lab. Little did I know that my dream would be realized as the United States National Research Council introduced the concept of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) in 2012 as the new approach to K-12 science education. My dream became a reality twice – once when I served as a principal requesting a larger building with dedicated STEAM labs and now as the Superintendent of Forest Park D91.
The shift to STEAM in our curriculum was driven by the influence of STEAM policies. These policies, developed at various levels of government, from federal to state and local, are pivotal in shaping education and workforce readiness. STEAM provided the dots that connected for children to see how it is all aligned. STEAM was their “Aha moment”.
Some important items to consider for our students to reach the “Aha moment” are STEAM policies. These policies primarily emphasize curriculum development. They champion an interdisciplinary teaching approach, nurturing creativity and critical thinking in students by melding science and art, technology and math. These policies establish standards and guidelines for K-12 education, ensuring students actively engage with these subjects, encouraging research, design, and presentation skills.
Teacher development is another core policy. To effectively deliver STEAM education, educators need specialized training and support. These policies empower teachers with the knowledge and skills to inspire their students through resources like workshops, mentorship programs, and incentives for retaining qualified STEAM educators. Collaboration with local institutions and mentorship opportunities provide teachers with the support they need.
Funding and grants are essential instruments for achieving STEAM education goals. Government agencies allocate resources to support institutions, funding curriculum development, research projects, and the acquisition of educational technology, ensuring a well-rounded STEAM education.
Inclusivity, diversity and belonging are central themes in STEAM policies, aiming for equitable education. These policies promote diversity and relational inclusion in STEAM fields, striving to reduce disparities and ensure all students, including women and minorities, have access to STEAM education and career opportunities.
Public awareness and outreach are vital components of STEAM policies, raising awareness about STEAM fields and engaging the community through science fairs, art exhibitions, and technology showcases, inspiring students and the public alike.
High school-bound students benefit from collaboration between academia and industry, which is a key feature of STEAM policies. These policies create opportunities for internships, co-op programs, and employment for STEAM graduates, strengthening the link between education and the workforce.
Effective STEAM policies also include mechanisms for evaluation and assessment, ensuring positive impact and the adjustment of initiatives based on feedback and evidence.
As D91 embraces a student-centric STEAM curriculum to get as many “Aha moments”, we’re adopting a comprehensive approach to education, innovation, and economic development. These policies are the catalysts for nurturing the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and creators, preparing them to tackle the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly evolving world. STEAM education not only enhances the curriculum but also ensures that District 91 students are well-prepared for high school and beyond, reflecting our dedication to their holistic development and future success.