Pasco community looks to future of STEM education

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldAugust 22, 2013 

People didn't hold back Thursday night when asked what future newspaper headlines might say about three Pasco elementary schools opening in the next two years with science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum.

"100 percent passage of Common Core assessments."

"STEM capital of the nation."

"Pasco students convene first regional climate change symposium."

More than 80 people -- students, parents, STEM professionals and community leaders -- gathered at the Pasco School District's offices Thursday to brainstorm the vision and guiding principles for the three schools.

District officials said there still is a lot of work to do, especially with the first school opening in a year, but participants said this process will help make the schools successful.

"I'm excited to see where this goes," said Tiffanie Eyre, a Pasco resident and mother of five.

The district decided earlier this year to make the three new schools STEM-focused. All are being built with a $46.8 million bond approved by voters in February.

Planning principal Deidre Holmberg has researched similar schools and will draw upon her experience leading Delta High School, a STEM high school operated by the Pasco, Kennewick and Richland school districts. However, Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill said it's important to get community input.

"We could sit down and come up with something (ourselves)," Hill said, "but this way there's a lot of voices in it and a lot of ownership."

A smaller group of district officials and community members will take the ideas generated at the meeting and refine them down to a vision statement and guiding principles, Holmberg said. Those in turn will help design the school's curriculum.

Consultants Judy and Greg Reault guided the meeting, prompting attendees to state their dreams for a STEM school and what those schools' students should come away with. Ideas ranged from the insistence that students not be afraid of math and science and not lose knowledge during the summer to the production of future engineers and scientists and more women in STEM fields.

"It's all about job opportunities," one woman shouted during the meeting.

Daisy Quiroga, 16, a Delta High junior, is excited to be involved because STEM education has nurtured her desire to be an engineer, she said.

The district's approach to developing the schools' philosophy is reminiscent of STEM education itself, which is collaborative and open, Quiroga said.

Eyre is happy the district is seeking such a variety of viewpoints in designing the schools' curriculum, she said. Important and optimistic issues facing education were voiced.

"I'm hearing a lot about integration and relevance," she said.

Holmberg and Hill said they know the district has its work cut out for it. The goal is to have the Pasco School Board approve the vision statement and guiding principles by the end of September so curriculum can be designed, allowing the district to hire and train teachers.

But those throwing out their ideas, hopes and dreams for the schools said they believe in the process.

"I guarantee you those headlines will come true," Quiroga said.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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