Pasco's newest elementary school isn't open yet, but one of its teachers couldn't stop smiling after getting a peek.
Molly Winsel marveled at the size of her new third-grade classroom on the second floor of Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School, complete with abundant storage, bright lighting and a desk custom designed by Principal Deidre Holmberg.
Winsel's smile only grew wider as she toured the rest of the west Pasco school, with its broad carpeted hallways, LEGO library and combination art room and science lab called the "Maker Space."
"This is impressive," she said after her tour. "They've really outdone themselves."
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The school at Road 52 and Powerline Road opens Aug. 26.
It will be up to Winsel, Holmberg and the rest of the new school's teachers to use the building to deliver a new science, technology, engineering and math-focused education model centered on elementary education for Franklin's 711 students.
"Even more important than having a STEM background is willingness," Holmberg said.
Parents of the school's first students also are excited, but that hasn't dispelled all their anxieties.
"I just hope the teachers are prepared for this new way of teaching," said Rebecca Richardson, who will have three students at Franklin this fall.
Franklin was the first of three new elementary schools the Pasco School District built with a voter-approved $46.8 million bond. The remaining two, Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock STEM elementary schools, will open for the 2015-16 school year. All three will have STEM-focused curricula, which includes an emphasis on math and science but also integration between subjects and project-based learning.
The new school itself is meant to complement teaching through a STEM model. It has playground spaces, a gym, lunchroom and library like any other school, but there is also a STEM library, where equipment such as microscopes will be stored and checked out by teachers. There are no individual desks in the classrooms but long, heavy tables suited for group work and experiments. Each classroom has an area rug, still rolled up, featuring the periodic table of elements.
Instead of desktop computers, Franklin will have 600 Lenova Yoga tablet computers and another 150 Apple iPads, creating a roughly one-to-one ratio of computers to students. Just as students will be able to check books out of the library, they'll be able to borrow from a collection of LEGO, donated by Holmberg's 10-year-old son.
Holmberg has played a role in developing STEM education in the Tri-Cities, having been the first principal at Delta High School, the STEM high school jointly operated by the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts. She and Delta staff have led workshops and conferences on the educational model for other educators, and the school has been lauded by educators and state officials.
Pasco schools have used some form of STEM education in its schools in recent years, tying math and science into history and language arts and providing more hands-on projects.
But teachers will have to make the material previously used to teach mostly middle and high school students accessible to students who still get recess every day.
"There's definitely a lot of great information out there on light pollution but it's definitely not at a first-grade level," Holmberg said.
One potential lesson involves using the children's book, Stellaluna, the story of a bat that was raised among the babies of a bird after being separated from her mother, to teach about brood parasitism, or the practice of animals tricking other animals into raising their young.
Winsel and fellow third-grade teacher Katie Stover said they're ready to make Franklin into a great school and gave different reasons for their optimism. Stover has been teaching for only a few years and previously worked with smaller student groups. She said she has a natural interest in science and has already taken an integrated approach in her classroom.
Winsel, on the other hand, has taught for many years in the district and knows that STEM, which she said doesn't make a student sit and listen but rather explore and experiment, is a natural fit for young children.
"My anxiety is less because I don't have to get them to sit down and listen to me," she said.
That approach to learning will be welcomed by Wendy Diest's youngest son, who will be a first-grader at Franklin this fall. She said he enjoys making his own experiments with soap and water. Her oldest son, who will be in fourth grade, will like the greater focus on math.
However, Diest said she doesn't have a full grasp of what a STEM education means or what it will look like, such as whether there would be printed books in the library or just e-books on computers.
"When I first heard about it, I was nervous it would be too much technology," she said.
Richardson said she thinks her son, who also will be a fourth-grader, could be frustrated by the new model because he's more set in how he learns.
Regardless, both mothers said they and their children are looking forward to finally getting a look inside their new school.
Holmberg acknowledged that the school's first weeks won't go perfectly, as any new school needs time to settle into a routine. But she's confident students will adjust and thrive.
"People will look back and say, 'Wow, we really did something,' but that likely won't be till spring break," she said.