Redefining what it means to be a student at O.B. Whaley, the school has honed in on their strengths and recognized what they do best – guide students toward critical thinking and problem solving in a way that will best prepare them for the ever-evolving, ever-challenging work world. O.B. Whaley has embraced their place in the Evergreen community as our STEAM School.
STEAM is an extension of the concept of a STEM school, which refers to science, technology, engineering and math. Students in STEM programs may have more experiential, hands-on learning opportunities as a way to build these skills in a practical way. But many have suggested STEM is missing a critical component, especially as we train students to be prepared to play a role in the broader economy. Concepts like creation, creativity, ingenuity, innovation and imagination and are critical components for a well-rounded student wanting to take their place as a key player in the work world. Thus the addition of the 'A": or, the arts. STEAM takes STEM to the next level just as O.B. Whaley is taking their commitment to teach their students these critical skills to the next level.
In 2016, principals and their staff were charged by Superintendent Kathy Gomez to determine what their schools would be known for, develop an action plan, and bring the new direction to fruition by the 2018-2019 academic term. The O.B. Whaley staff responded by rolling up their sleeves, getting down to work and developing the school into a STEAM school.
"Becoming a STEAM school was the obvious pathway toward fulfilling O.B. Whaley's mission statement which is to provide a challenging educational environment that allows all students to develop their ability to communicate effectively, think critically, analyze, problem solve, and apply what is learned in a technical and global world," says Principal Tonya Trim.
The Whaley STEAM Team Lead Teachers are Michelle Ghione and Diana Nakano. They have worked with Principal Trim on the journey toward STEAM since the beginning, but there were others central to this new direction including Michelle Balistreri who has moved on to Bulldog Tech, Kameelah Green, who initially brought multicultural dance to the school and who is now principal at Laurelwood, and countless teachers and coaches who have built the new STEAM reality at the school.
Bringing the arts component to the STEAM equation has been critical to its early success. "In 2017-2018, we amplified the Arts in STEAM by bringing the first ever Multicultural Dance instruction for all students to the district in the form of a two week Dance Academy, notes Trim. "Our students, parents and teachers loved it so much... especially the parents that they were clamoring for us to bring it back in the Spring of 2018. We did! Students were able to strut their stuff in a second dance showcase."
Other key elements in the STEAM programing have included professional development, a commitment from all teachers and staff to support and fully understand the shared goal, and plan for students to be engaged in deeper learning work, engaging activities and hands-on experiences.
STEAM Team leaders have been engaged in extensive training and workshops as well as visiting successful STEAM labs and schools to ensure they bring the STEAM ethos back to the community. They are also working increasing devices to reach 1:1 status throughout the school. Additional activities have included a robotics class for students and parents offered through Parent University with plans for this year to include:
- Moving from a two week Multicultural Dance Academy to a Multicultural Dance Institute (nine weeks the first half of the year and nine weeks the second half of the year; culminating in a dance showcase at the conclusion of both sessions)
- Implementing a Music for Minors program grades K-4 (1x/week for 24 weeks) with 5th & 6th graders having the option to choose the district's band program.
- Implementing Arts Attack lessons/instruction grades K-6
- Introducing students to 3-D printing and coding
- Camp Invention (a one week STEAM Camp) - the first of its kind in the district.
"Our goal is to see every school in the District define itself as something unique, something that speaks to the community they serve," says Superintendent Gomez. "Seeing what has been built at O.B. Whaley has been very exciting to witness and we're proud of every teacher, student and administrator who has been a part of this important change."
Trim and her team are thrilled with the new direction and see it already bearing fruit. "As site leader, I'm extremely proud of the collaborative work my staff has been engaged in over the past two years to create spaces of joy, innovation, and risk-taking with each other and their students," she says. "Nothing thrills me more than to walk into a classroom and see students engaged in design challenges, teachers facilitating the learning, and students actively discussing ways to improve outcomes and/or products."
She goes on to add: "Becoming a STEAM school was the obvious pathway toward fulfilling O.B. Whaley's mission statement which is to provide a challenging educational environment that allows all students to develop their ability to communicate effectively, think critically, analyze, problem solve, and apply what is learned in a technical and global world. I recently read a quote by Elon Musk which says, 'Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.' That's the spirit I want my students to live by."