Vineyard STEM in Ontario, Calif., is a special place. As a transitional kindergarten to eighth grade STEM magnet school, it is uniquely situated to involve families and traditionally underrepresented groups involved in STEM education and ultimately help fill those 2.4 million empty STEM jobs.
With the support of the Ontario Montclair School District, Board of Education, superintendent and Vineyard’s families, Vineyard STEM offers a unique, “STEM for All” approach to instruction.
Unlike many STEM programs that offer after-school or other enrichment opportunities for students, Vineyard STEM offers “between-the-bells” instruction that allows all students access to STEM education during the school day, regardless of ability, age, English proficiency or gender.
The administration at Vineyard STEM has worked hard to build partnerships with local colleges, business and organizations to increase the opportunities available to students. For example, they partner with Girl Scouts of America each year to provide STEM learning for girls, Cal Poly Pomona to participate in their Robot Rally and the University of Riverside MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) program to provide advanced or alternative electives.
The kids absolutely love Vineyard STEM’s alternative approach to STEM education.
Adrian Arquieta, a fifth-grader, raved that, “STEM at Vineyard means that you use your smarts to work on the classwork you are given. It means that we get to do a lot of math and chemistry and biology in class and in our science lab. We are learning about robotics and coding also, hopefully, we will get to go to the Robot Rally this year. We don’t always work in our books: a lot of times we get to do things instead of just reading.”
PTA has been critical to involving parents and families in the education process at Vineyard STEM. Parents involved in the Vineyard STEM PTA work collaboratively with staff to provide the support and resources necessary to sustain a STEM learning environment.
And, PTA members help families become more aware of the opportunities available to their students and facilitate families’ informed conversations about their children’s future. Vineyard STEM PTA helps bring parents into the school community and raise awareness on the benefits of STEM education.
Alec Hobbs, the principal of Vineyard STEM, sat down with National PTA to discuss the impact the program has had on his students.
National PTA: Thanks for taking the time out of a busy school day to speak with us! Could you describe a typical day at Vineyard STEM?
Hobbs: At Vineyard there are no typical days. Depending on the grade level or project, you could see middle school students in the science lab working on creating prosthetic arms from reusable materials, Kindergarteners in our learning gardens, fourth-graders creating stop-motion animation on iPads, fifth-graders learning coding and robotics or third-graders collaborating on Chromebooks. What you will see consistently is teachers ensuring students are able to communicate effectively, collaborate appropriately, think creatively and become problems solvers by thinking critically.
National PTA: Why is introducing students to STEM so important?
Hobbs: At Vineyard, we believe that our STEM instruction gives students the skills necessary to be successful in college and career. Giving our students access to STEM-based instruction allows them to make informed choices about what they want to study in school or what career they might be interested in. Not every student at Vineyard will go on to a STEM career, but all of them will have the skills and knowledge necessary to make an informed decision about their future. We also believe in helping our parents become more knowledgeable about STEM. Our PTA gives parents an opportunity to increase their awareness of STEM instruction and STEM careers.
National PTA: What do you believe is the most effective way to teach science, technology, engineering and math?
Hobbs: At Vineyard we believe in a “STEM for all” model. What that means is that we leverage STEM instruction to support student learning and increase our students’ core competencies. During the school day, we increase students’ understanding of core content by creating authentically engaging tasks to help students apply what they’re learning. This ensures that all students are able to take full advantage of opportunities to explore coding, engineering, robotics and science (among others) to reinforce the core subjects they’re learning.
National PTA: What do you think will best prepare your students to be successful in the future in STEM?
Hobbs: By teaching our students to be able to communicate effectively, collaborate appropriately, think creatively and become problems solvers by thinking critically, we give them skills to be successful in any future they choose. We use STEM to authentically engage students in their learning and are thus able to matriculate students who are able to apply these skills.
National PTA: How important do you feel parent involvement is to encouraging students to stay interested in STEM?
Hobbs: Having families involved at Vineyard is key to the long-term sustainability of our STEM program. By helping to foster a knowledgeable parent community, we create a homeschool connection which values STEM as an instructional model and as a means for students to access careers they may not otherwise consider. Having parent groups like the PTA involved with our school gives families a chance to learn more about what STEM education means and to become a voice in the community for STEM education. Keeping students engaged in their education requires a strong connection between home and school. When students hear the same message from home and school they tend to be motivated learners.
Corinne Canning is the Editorial and Marketing Specialist at National PTA.