A rural school's STEM makeover

By: | July 16, 2015

STEM came alive in a rural Arizona district after a state grant led to a culture change.

Congress Elementary School District has just 115 students and is located 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. Superintendent and Principal Stephanie Miller received a three-year grant of $42,500 from Science Foundation Arizona and the Arizona STEM Network in 2012 to develop STEM programs and activities in the district.

The 1-to-1 district embarked on a STEM program that includes:

  • An after-school Lego robotics STEM program
  • An after-school STEM drama club, in which students perform plays on a science topic. This spring, K2 students presented one about animals and their habitats. Older students created a journey through time, demonstrating changes in classroom technology throughout history.
  • A new curriculum focused on critical thinking and problem-solving, and on cross-curricular videos and performance tasks to accentuate STEM in every subject.

Administrators are working the funding into the district strategic plan to continue the STEM focus after the grant term ends in 2015-16. Miller says a healthy attitude toward experimentation is key for a successful program like this.

“Teachers should feel safe to explore, make mistakes, and learn from them, just like we expect our students to do,” Miller says. “Take that STEM vision and intertwine it with the school’s mission.”