In 2006, founding partners Battelle, Washington State University Tri-Cities and the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts discussed the possibility of a high school in the Tri-Cities focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. This innovative high school would deliver a STEM education by focusing students’ learning on application of the principles of mathematics and science. Relevant hands-on and minds-on activities cultivating thinking with a purpose, reasoning, curiosity, perseverance and inquisitiveness would describe the instructional experience for the student who opted to attend. The STEM philosophy was a natural fit for a community like the Tri-Cities, whose history is rich with innovation and which was built on an economic foundation of energy, conservation, agriculture, technological research, engineering design and national defense.
With continued support from the founding partners and additional partnerships with the Washington State STEM Education Foundation and Columbia Basin College, Delta High School opened in September 2009. In 2013, Delta High School graduated its first class prepared with 21st century skills that today’s students need in order to succeed in the information age. Delta High School boasts an enrollment of about 400 students, all of whom apply, are selected by lottery and leave their home school districts to embark on an innovative journey toward career readiness. Delta High School’s success ignited a movement in Pasco School District.
The concept of Delta High School, a small school with a big footprint, expanded across Pasco School District with the opening of Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School in 2014 and the scheduled opening of Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock STEM elementary schools in fall 2015. All of Pasco’s STEM schools are purposefully designed to meet the projected needs of the 21st century work force, including the ability to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with the rapidly changing environment to produce something new and useful.
The new STEM elementary schools in Pasco educate by capitalizing on the natural curiosity of our elementary learners. It is through natural curiosity that new technologies, innovations and industries are born. At Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary, second-grade students can be found reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears and expanding the story beyond their expected learning to include re-engineering Little Bear’s chair to reinforce it for Goldilocks’ next visit. Fourth-graders visited the Coyote Canyon Mammoth Dig during a study of geology, providing a real world connection for scientific principles of rock formations, fossils and the change of landscapes overtime. Students brought back bags of soil and used microscopes and stereoscopes to continue their exploration. When given the opportunity to show evidence of understanding of the water cycle, a second-grader at Rosalind Franklin came dressed as the water cycle. Now, that is the outward demonstration of harnessing the natural curiosity of students and building on it. The “footprint” will expand with new opportunities next school year, when Captain Gray Elementary reopens as a K-6 with the same program offerings as our newly built STEM schools.
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While Delta High School and Pasco’s three new elementary schools are STEM schools, all campuses in Pasco have STEM initiatives underway. Stevens Middle School students, who are enrolled in Project Lead the Way, use engineering software to construct parts of a manufacturing supply chain that requires the individual pieces of the machine to work together to create a product. At Emerson Elementary, fifth-grade students learn the concept of velocity by participating in a design challenge where students design, build, test and modify a car to maximize the distance traveled.
The Pasco School District is firmly committed to the STEM vision of igniting in our students and staff a passion for learning, a commitment to innovative thinking and a desire to transform the global community. Our students deserve our best thinking, a rigorous and relevant standards-based education, and preparatory experiences for the 13th year and beyond.