It’s full STEAM ahead on rebranding educational enrichment curriculum

Maria Grantham, DMSEF vice president of marketing, Superintendent Holly McClurg, DMSEF President Ty Humes and Shelley Petersen, assistant superintendent of instructional services. Photo by Karen Billing

In the Del Mar Union School District, STEAM + is replacing ESC. Awareness and education about the re-branding of the Extended Studies Curriculum over to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Music Plus will be taking place over the next school year, with full implementation by 2017.

Superintendent Holly McClurg and Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Shelley Petersen officially rolled out STEAM + to the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation at its May 13 meeting.

Instead of thinking about the district’s specialized education program as an individual science teacher or a music teacher, with STEAM +, the specialized subjects are integrated into all of disciplines.

“The STEAM + culture will be in every classroom and innovation center at every school,” Petersen said, noting they are moving away from the concept of set-aside “ESC time.” “We’re working toward programs that do not live in isolation; they are actively engaged in all disciplines.”

McClurg said the district will rely on the foundation as their partner in spreading the message about STEAM + and raising the funds to make it happen.

“We are so enthusiastic about what’s to come,” McClurg said. “Our district would not be what it is without the work the foundation does … you work so hard to do great things for our children.”

The school board will hear about the new STEAM + at its meeting Wednesday, May 27, as well as hear a discussion about what the program means for facilities needs.

The transition to STEAM + has been in development with district staff for the past two years.

McClurg had found in meeting with parents about ESC and the role of the foundation, the notion of marketing ESC was “problematic.” She said people didn’t understand whether ESC was extra enrichment or remedial education or what it really was. McClurg said people didn’t even seem to like the ESC acronym.

“Since we have changed to STEAM +, nobody has said ‘I really liked that name ESC,’” McClurg said.

Petersen said when they talk about STEAM +, they talk about the “wow” factor, of walking into a classroom and seeing what it looks like with students being prolific writers, “attacking math fearlessly” and applying their knowledge in engineering projects.

Board member Scott Wooden said in his visits to schools he is always impressed with how the subjects integrate with whatever’s going on in the grade level, such as art and science applied to lessons in social studies.

Petersen said that people would be hard-pressed to find better examples of what they do in Del Mar with interdisciplinary units of studies. Their program is already “wonderful” but they can do more, such as bring engineering specialists into the classroom.

“We’re very excited about the potential to look beyond the way we currently do things,” McClurg said.

With STEAM +, Petersen said they aim to teach children to be good thinkers, ready to apply their skills and be prepared for middle school, high school and their careers.

“The plus represents whatever the school community feels is near and dear to their heart and educational program,” Petersen said, noting that some campuses value subjects like foreign language and drama, which they will still be able to have.

Foundation representative Brenda Bilstad expressed her concerns that the foundation will face challenges in explaining STEAM +. As the program is integrated more, there isn’t the distinction of “ESC time.” Public school education is supposed to be free, and they will have to explain to parents why they need to donate funds for their children’s education.

Petersen said she understands that educating the school community will be a challenge, and that the foundation and the district will need to be consistent in the way they communicate about STEAM +. She said the foundation will still be funding people, such as science specialists and technology specialists who bring their expertise, and all the other ways to enrich the educational experience.

McClurg said the brutal fact is that public education does not include specialized programs like those Del Mar has, and it exists only because of the community’s support.

“We would not have what we have in this school district without the foundation,” she said. “We’re really proud of our foundation … The model in place here is very successful, especially because it’s all volunteers.”

“We have a private school setting in a public school system because of the work the foundation does to support our incredible program,” Petersen said.