SALAMANCA — Over the past decade, the Salamanca City Central School District has pioneered numerous educational initiatives that helped spur replication and innovation in other districts across Western New York.
This year Salamanca has served as a catalyst for yet another exciting development in educational circles: the pathway of STEAM programming.
Several WNY districts, including Lockport City Schools, North Tonawanda Schools and Buffalo Public Schools (BPS), recently visited Salamanca to learn more about the award-winning program.
“The Salamanca City Central School District has taken its national title as a School of Excellence seriously and is happy to share our story and pathway with others,” said Robert Breidenstein, Salamanca’s district superintendent.
BPS, a district that maintains 67 schools and serves over 34,000 pupils, was excited to visit its rural cousin.
“Salamanca has achieved much in a very short time using STEM,” said BPS Board of Education President Sharon Belton-Cotman.
Focused on learning about the STEM curriculum and new educational strategies utilized at Salamanca STEAM Academy, 19 BPS principals and teachers, along with several district administrators, observed how the school approaches STEAM instruction, how the school is outfitted technologically and spoke with some of the teachers about their experiences and practices.
Among Buffalo’s administrators visiting Salamanca were Dr. Kathy Evans-Brown, VP of Student Achievement; Dr. Kelly Baudo, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction; Tatiana Merrick, Director of Science; Ashley Young, PreK Coord/Acting Superintendent of Elementary Education; Carmen Milioto, Supervisor of Alternative Education; Principal Demario Strickland (#97); Principal Gregory Johnson (#54); Principal Dr. Kevin Eberle (MST Academy) and Principal Marquita Bryant, of Frederick Law Olmsted School #64.
Overseeing the building tour was Salamanca’s Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mark Beehler and STEAM Coordinator Aaron Straus.
“At the time our schools began looking at a new capital project, the district decided to change its tactics on how and what students would learn. A portion of that plan involved heavy investment in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM education,” Beehler said. “That’s because it involves all disciplines to the creation of a better world and fosters transferable skills valuable to nearly every career path.”
According to Beehler, Salamanca went from a school with declining enrollment and 59% graduation rates to NYS good standing, 92% graduation and national awards for STEM excellence.
“STEAM is not the silver bullet for educational excellence but it certainly did make a difference,” he added.
Classes at Salamanca STEAM Academy combine science, engineering, math and coding and many lessons focus on hands-on projects and experiments. As the BPS administrators worked their way through the K-12 program, they were treated to live drone workshops, First Robotic demonstrations and looked at many of the grant-funded high-tech equipment like Resin 3D printers, industrial simulation robots, soldering stations and wood and welding shops.
The BPS delegates had the opportunity to engage with students and teachers. During a question-and-answer segment, BPS educators were able to speak with teachers and students about the understanding of rigorous concepts, as well as the overall STEM curriculum.
“Robotics has allowed me to gain experience and confidence in many areas of my life,” said Connor Klute, a STEAM robotics student. “I’m more confident in presenting to my peers, younger students and adults. I’ve had to learn how to communicate ideas, help students conclude and present to the public.”
“From a teaching perspective, STEAM is changing everything,” said Cheryl Johnson, eighth-grade science and robotics teacher, as she helped BPS Principal Marquita Bryant take an adventurous seat on the student-designed FRC robot. “Previously, teachers in my field would follow along with a science curriculum on a given subject. But now I’m working to combine the Next Generation Science Standards with social studies and technology class happening next to the science room or down the hall. That’s not typical for a test year science teacher, in a city school district, but it helps student learning.”
During the event, Beehler explained that the district offers seven pathways of WozEd, the K-12 curriculum and kit provider for Salamanca: Engineering, Coding, Animation, Mobile Development, Cyber Security & Drones. In addition, the district also will soon offer seven college-credit, certificate programs.
BPS learned about the pathway and drone curriculum the district uses as they enjoyed an introduction to drone lessons Salamanca’s fourth-grade students experience in STEAM class.
“It was frightening at first but then I got the hang of it,” said one teacher as her drone completed a 360-degree flip through the air.
“Our trip to Salamanca was informative, stimulating, encouraging and inspirational,” Belton-Cotman said of BPS’s visit. “The faculty and the Native American ambience made us all feel welcome. BPS looks forward to future collaborations with the Salamanca school district and we hope to model Salamanca’s success.”