Once at risk of closing, Pittsburgh Woolslair PreK-5 will become a partial STEAM magnet school next year with the aid of nearly $900,000 in foundation grants to support STEAM learning at several schools in the district. The new STEAM programs are part of an ongoing movement in the region’s schools and informal learning spaces to improve access to STEM learning as well as to integrate the A in “art.”
The Pittsburgh Public Schools Board considered closing the small school of about 110 students in 2013 to help narrow the district’s budget deficit. But last September, the board approved a plan to turn the school into a partial STEAM magnet school, meaning kids from all around the city can apply. The school will also stay a neighborhood school, and the STEAM program—which stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math—will grow one grade level per year.
When the district approved the plan in the fall, funding for the program was still up in the air. On Wednesday, the district announced the plan would be funded with $480,000 in grants from the Grable Foundation and $391,000 from the Fund for Excellence, a consortium of foundations.
Foundation support will also help to develop STEAM curriculum at Lincoln PreK-5 and Schiller 6-8, two other schools in the district. The district is also planning a STEAM program for Perry High School.
“Our current vision for STEAM education is to provide experiences where kids will eventually not just participate in the economy as consumers of things, but have the capacity to really be makers of things,” district STEAM coordinator Shaun Tomaszewski told local radio station WESA.
The district plans to hire two new STEAM teachers who will lead the program at all three schools and collaborate with teachers on projects. The schools will also turn spaces in each of their buildings into STEAM labs with plenty of spaces for hands-on projects.
At the news conference announcing the STEAM programs, students from Schiller showed off levees they’d built in plastic shoeboxes with materials like sand and sponges. Though the details are still developing, teachers throughout the district will be also able to seek mini-grants for innovative STEAM projects with the new funding.
The STEAM movement is growing in the Pittsburgh region. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit, one of 29 intermediate units across the state that are part of the public education system, has poured over $2 million into STEAM grants for 150 schools across the region, ranging from robotics to coding and game design. At the C3 Lab at Blackhawk High School, students use 3D printers to design and print parts for broken equipment. Meanwhile, students at Crafton Elementary School have been known to use the STEAM Studio, a dedicated room with technology and equipment, for projects during lunch.
And although the region has always had long history of industry and engineering, the new shift towards combining art and design sets the programs apart and helps prepare kids for an economy that requires divergent and creative thinking.
“Some of the things you’re seeing going on at universities right now, [like at] Carnegie Mellon, are pulling together people who are engineers, who are artists, designers. That’s the kind of thing we see going on out in the world,” Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools Linda Lane told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an article about the Woolslair plan last September, before it was finalized. “I really like that kind of blending.”