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posted: 4/23/2013 12:40 PM

Rafferty: STEM classes blend with the arts to prepare students for future

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Preparing the next generation of leaders -- our current students -- for success in high school and beyond requires us to continually assess what we are teaching, how our students are performing and what adjustments need to be made to the educational programs that District 54 provides.

We often hear that the United States is losing its status as a global leader and is becoming less of an influence in the expanding global economy. Experts in the fields of education and business tell us that for the U.S. to remain competitive, it is essential for students to become innovators by developing skills in creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking, in addition to reading, math and science.

Innovation has never been more important than it now is for the U.S. to remain internationally competitive. Without innovation, new ideas and creative solutions to tomorrow's complex challenges will not occur.

Multiple studies have shown that when the skills and talents of a scientist or mathematician are combined with those of an artist or musician, creativity and innovation are more likely to result. This growing body of research has led to an increased emphasis on the importance of providing high-quality fine arts programs beginning in the early grades. To reflect this change, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning opportunities are now being referred to more often as STEAM (STEM plus the Arts).

Given the excellent fine arts program that District 54 has consistently provided, our students will be well equipped to meet the STEAM challenge. Knowing the importance that fine arts play in promoting higher levels of student learning, several years ago our Board of Education approved increasing the number of enrichment classes that we offer. These classes vary depending on the interest levels of students and staff. Classes in piano, ukulele, guitar, music technology, composing, percussion, sculpting, art in nature, pop art, cartooning, photography, garden art, oil painting, design and architecture are all examples of additional learning opportunities that support the "A" in STEAM in our district.

Each junior high will be expanding the number of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classes, a nationally recognized premier STEM educational program. This curriculum provides integrated learning opportunities for students to apply math, science and technology skills as they collaborate with peers to create, design, build and solve problems. Next year's offerings include design and modeling, automation and robotics, flight and space, science of technology and the magic of electrons.

After-school learning opportunities that incorporate STEAM concepts have grown significantly over the past several years. Along with a variety of art and music clubs, many schools now offer robotics, GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) and BASE (Boys Analyzing Science and Engineering).

Please consider joining us as students from all 27 of our schools participate in District 54's first rocket launch scheduled to take place on May 14. Information on this event will be available on District 54's website in the near future.

The long-term economic success of our country rests upon its ability to be a world leader in the creation of new ideas and industries, which will lead to more and higher-paying jobs. District 54 will continue to do its part and is fully committed to providing high-quality STEAM educational experiences in preparing our students to successfully meet the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.