Three east Savannah schools are the beneficiaries of a five-year $14.9 million grant to establish and enhance science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) programs.
The grant was awarded through the U.S. Department of Education Magnet School Assistance program and will help the district launch and maintain STEAM programs at A.B. Williams Elementary, Hubert Middle and School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High schools. All three principals were told about the award for the district’s Lighthouse Project on Friday afternoon.
District officials announced the award at a press conference Monday morning at A.B. Williams School.
The program will integrate all facets of the students’ STEAM education — the what, the how, and the why, according to Angie Lewis, the district’s senior director of college and career readiness.
“The focus of this initiative will use STEAM as a process to which schools have to shift their instructional focus that is driven by exploratory project-based learning and student-centered development of ideas and solutions to real-world problems,” Lewis explained. She added that students will have access to programs in robotics, engineering, and “the important role art [such as video production] plays in the scheme of things. STEAM plays a role in their everyday lives. It instills critical-thinking skills and passion for innovation.”
The application process started last October, according to Ann Levett, district superintendent. Forty-two applications were submitted nationally, and Savannah-Chatham County Schools was one of nine districts to win the grant. Students from the three schools will have a pipeline of STEAM programs all the way from pre-K through 12th grade, Levett said.
Funding will be allotted annually, meaning the district will receive around $3 million per year for the next five years.
Connie Hall, District 3 board member, praised the team that successfully applied for the grant, but cautioned to keep it sustainable beyond the five years.
“Each [of the three] school[s] will receive dedicated specialty staff, materials, tools and technologies to support and expand a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math programs,” said David Feliciano, the district’s chief data and accountability officer. Feliciano added that teachers will use the “train the teacher” model so when a teacher leaves a school, another teacher is able to continue. He also said that Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) revenue can be used to replace technology items, as necessary.
Hubert Middle School has launched a new Choice program for 2021-22, which includes programs in advanced mathematics; arts and audio-visual technology communications; business and computer science; engineering and computer science; and family and consumer sciences.
‘A shot in the arm’
“It’s like getting that second shot in the arm,” said Brian Dotson, Hubert Middle School principal. He added that Hubert is currently working toward STEAM certification, and this grant is a tremendous opportunity for the students.
The School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High offers Choice programs in liberal studies and criminal justice; and is a Three-Dimensional Education (3DE) school.
The three-dimensional education model allows schools to partner with corporate and local businesses who work with student cohorts on marketing plans. In this case, the School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High partners with Junior Achievement. The students take real-world challenges do research on the companies and present their marketing plans directly to the corporate supervisors. And just like in a real business model, there is competition. The winning presentation receives feedback from the corporate executives on their findings and presentation.
Throughout the 3DE process, student cohorts are coached by community partners, who give them feedback on their presentation and public speaking skills. “We’ve had [partnerships with] Georgia Power, Sun Trust Bank, Delta Airlines, Arby’s, and UPS, just to name a few,” said Gequetta Jenkins, principal of the School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High School. She added that in the coming school year, the first cohort will be juniors whose responsibility is to create their own business and pop-up shop. “We’re excited about next year being our first and our first pop-up shop experience,” Jenkins added.
The push for STEM and STEAM education is by necessity. By 2025, Georgia state standards require all schools to offer computer science courses and programs in all grade levels.
“I expect to see kids from here end up at MIT and Stanford,” said Hall. “We have such opportunities now for our children. I’m just excited to be a board member at this time.”
Barbara Augsdorfer is the education reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @Babs7983.