Creative and adaptive. All over the country, schools and their students have had to discover how to become these words in order to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully for Eastern Christian’s STEAM program, those two words encompass the identity of its body of students and teachers.
The STEAM program has seen various changes this year in order to further improve students’ advancements in the program, while also overcoming the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the wide variety of projects that are currently being developed in the STEAM program, students have had varying degrees of difficulty over the quarantine that started back in March.
According to STEAM mentor Mrs. Petra Van’t Slot, who oversaw many students during the quarantine, most students managed to find some way to continue evolving their projects. “STEAM students, by nature, are creative,” she says. “Often, they already have a way to problem solve, so when they ran into a problem over quarantine, they were able to overcome it and create new, alternative solutions and plans.”
Some, like Tier 4 STEAM student Matias Cortes, have seen very little change for their project. “It’s mostly been the same because I’m in the process of coding a computer game to teach children about renewable energy. It’s all on the computer so nothing has really changed,” he says.
Others, like Tier 3 STEAM student Josh Steen, managed to see progress despite the various limitations. “My project progressed more than I thought it was going to over quarantine,” he reflects. “I shifted more into building and designing some of my own things. It was limited with the resources I had, but I somehow pulled through.”
With the school being reopened, both the students and leaders have had to make various changes to both improve the program and accommodate with COVID-19 restrictions.
To help combat these challenges and restrictions, Mr. Verrengia says that the STEAM program will be toned down to a three year program that spans from freshman to junior year. The first year will be an introductory year, the second will be a project creation year, and the final will be a thesis/dissertation creation year. Other new changes this year include specialized classes, a redefinition of the student-mentor relationship, and a more focused scope for student projects. The main goal for these changes is to lessen the strain on the STEAM program and its senior members who usually have a lot on their plate.
With these new plans in place and a successful return to school, many STEAM members feel hopeful about the future. When asked about his hopes for students interested in STEAM, Mr. Verrengia said that he believes that it is a good learning experience for anyone. “It teaches skills like reading and information synthesis,” he says. “And if you’re interested in science in any way, you can dig deeper into those topics. From the project, you can also learn collaboration, perseverance, and general study tactics, which are all useful for general learning areas.”
Students who worked through quarantine also feel better about the outlooks of their projects. Josh Steen believes that he will have more progress this year in part due to the progress he made. “I feel more confident than I was before quarantine,” he says. “I was able to gather my thoughts and shoot off with more of a motivation for my project. I have a new end goal that I never had before.”
As for his hopes for the future of the STEAM program, Mr. Verrengia hopes that it will be able to grow into a very positive area for individual student learning that can help benefit the world. “My hopes would be that even in this environment, that students have a good experience. I would like to see, and I am seeing it this year, a wider range of projects that delve into all aspects of science. I want students to develop a variety of unique and interesting topics that can be both helpful and transformative to their community.”