Additional El Centro, CA, article:
EL CENTRO, CA – A strong hands-on science program is a prized
asset for any school. But when El Centro Elementary School District in
Imperial County, California, built their program in the 1990s thanks to
a National Science Foundation grant, the district was not content to
keep the benefits to itself.
As part of a program that continues to this day, El Centro designed
and created science kits that were used it its schools and also loaned
to schools in other districts within the county. In fact, the operation
is so significant that the district maintains a warehouse and a
refurbishment crew for the kits.
All of this is to say that El Centro is no newcomer to the
conversation about how to build an excellent STEM program. So,
when the district went scouting for major new tools to ramp up their
offering at their STEM magnet school, De Anza Magnet, it was already
a smart STEM shopper.
After visiting other California schools to survey the options,
El Centro made a careful decision to implement Pitsco STREAM
and STEM labs at the elementary and middle levels in 2017. School
officials saw right away what the Pitsco labs were doing for students
elsewhere, and they wanted to bring the same wins to El Centro.
At present, El Centro has installed three
Pitsco labs in its district, an elementary STREAM
Missions lab at Washington Elementary as well
as a Missions lab and a middle-level STEM
Expeditions® lab at De Anza Magnet. All the
labs provide collaborative, project-based
experiences for students.
In both schools, the labs are required classes.
This is fitting considering how the new STEM
curriculum is helping the school meet its larger
education goals in multiple subjects.
According to Linda Morse, senior director of
educational services at El Centro, “It blends very
well with another district-wide initiative, which
is AVID, a college-readiness system that focuses
on WICOR – writing, inquiry, collaboration,
organization, and reading. All of the Pitsco
curricula include each of those pieces. They are
interactive, collaborative, require critical thinking
and problem-solving. That was another reason
we were very intrigued with the Pitsco product.”
Students in the labs (both at the elementary
and middle levels) learn through a wide variety
of inputs, tailored to appeal to multiple learning
styles. Students read text, listen to audio,
converse with their partners and teammates,
and complete hands-on projects. The differing
inputs reinforce one another.
More than 50 percent of the El Centro district’s
student population is composed of English
language learners. Pitsco’s multimodal learning
solutions have been invaluable. When Director
of Learning, Instruction, and Accountability Joy
Ceasar was asked if ELL students benefit from
the approach used in the STEM labs, she didn’t
mince words. “Absolutely yes,” she said. “They
benefit from the collaboration, from being able
to work in groups.”
ENGAGED STUDENTS LEARN
Providing the right tool set to meet objectives
is one metric for success. A more immediate and
emotional measure, however, is simply gauging
the response of those who use the labs.
When the district was still deciding on its
purchase, STEM Coordinator Marco Arellano
visited an Expeditions lab in another school. He
and his compatriots noticed immediately how
excited the kids became as they entered the
classroom. As the lab got underway, it became
obvious that this was a truly dynamic program.
But, according to Arellano, what really made an
impression was “the engagement of the students.
It really stood out.” He noted that the facilitator
did a superb job keeping the lab running
smoothly, but it was the students themselves who
truly drove the educational experience.
Morse and Ceasar also visited a Missions lab
at Placentia Yorba-Linda. The student reaction
was palpable. “We had the ability to talk with
students and hear from them,” said Morse. “And
we had the ability to see, visibly see, and to feel
the excitement and the enthusiasm.”
These were all enticing indicators when
El Centro was considering options. Of course,
the true test is whether students show the
same enthusiasm now that the Pitsco labs are
in the district.
“The students love it,” described Ceasar.
“When you walk into a classroom, the students
are all engaged and very excited.”
Parents have begun to take note of the
dynamic environment in the STEM labs too.
“Linda and I also deal with a parent group,”
said Ceasar. “One of the parents was talking
extensively about the lab at De Anza. She was
very excited about the lab, and all the other
parents became very interested. We got to see
it from the parent point of view.”
According to Arellano, the enthusiasm has
an infectious quality. “The lab aids are very
excited,” he said. “This excitement in the room
gets transferred over to the students. And this
motivates the teachers. They go back to the
classroom wanting to do a little bit more!”
The excitement is set to spread a little further
next year when El Centro installs an additional
Missions lab at Lincoln Elementary School.