Salamanca High School earns national recognition for STEM

Salamanca High School students Connor Spring and Cruz Otero train on new drone assembly kits, side by side with their Part 107 teachers. The school was recently recognized for STEAM Excellence.

SALAMANCA — Salamanca High School has been called many things since it unveiled its award-winning Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) program: focus school, groundbreaker, pathway district.

Now it can add a new label: national STEM Excellence.

Salamanca City Central School District, a rural school facing generation poverty and connectivity concerns and located on the southern edge of the indigenous territory of Seneca Nation of Indians, was named a national school of STEM Excellence recently at the International Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Miami, Fla.

First awarded in 2015, the STEM Excellence Award is designed to highlight a school’s interdisciplinary approach to STEAM education, demonstrating the effective integration of science, technology, engineering, art, and math into authentic learning opportunities for students.

“Schools that provide high-quality STEM learning opportunities are truly living out the vision of what a 21st-century education should be, which is why we seek to highlight some of the nation’s most outstanding programs through the STEM Excellence Awards,” said Jennifer Womble, program chair of FETC.

Just three high schools in the United States and Canada earned the distinction, and Salamanca High School is the only New York state winner since the award’s inception.

“It is very rewarding to be recognized at this level for the work our teachers and administrators have invested in creating dynamic and focused learning experiences for our students,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mark Beehler. “It is equally as rewarding to see our students engaged in meaningful work and excel academically.”

The FETC Conference is in its 40th year and brings together teachers, businesses and industry partners to serve schools from across the northern continent.

“The recognition of Salamanca’s STEAM program by FETC is not only a wonderful acknowledgment of the dedication of students, staff, advisors and business partners, it is also an indication that together we are moving closer to our vision of developing a quality STEAM ecosystem, right here in Salamanca,” said Aaron Straus, the district’s STEAM and Adult Education Coordinator.

The Salamanca STEAM program has been closely watched since its inception five years ago. The initiative was conceived as a partnership between District leadership, teachers of Salamanca, and the larger STEM professional community.

“Our collective journey into the 21st century and STEAM programming began with a realization that our educational platform must keep pace with the changing technological environment,” said Robert Breidenstein, Salamanca superintendent.

Salamanca High School, meanwhile, initially helped start “silo” STEAM programs to generate awareness among the faculty and excitement from the student community.

“At the beginning of the program we were all silos,” said business teacher and Part 107 drones instructor, Kim Dry. “We incorporated our knowledge, technology, and creativity all for the benefit of our kids.”

The district provides supplemental staff and specialized funding to the school.

“After the initial success with individual programs we deliberately put actions into place to merge the programs, share resources, and practice integration,” Beehler said.

As the team presented their 5-year journey at the FETC conference, Straus emphasized that STEM and STEAM are far more than just anagram of the subjects: “The STEAM initiative is part of larger, ongoing efforts to reach beyond the four walls of the school disciplines and engage the swaths of workforce connections that encompasses its borders. We use 3D printing for research projects in the history classrooms, AR/VR technology for Earth Science labs and circuits in ELA class.”

Academy-style dual-enrollment STEM credits, competitions and cross-curricular collaboration between the individual subjects create a seamless transition from secondary to post-secondary education.

“So many disciplines are drawn into STEAM programs like First Robotics,” said science teacher and robotics coach, Cheryl Johnson, “If students don’t want to build, code needs to be written. Wires need to be cut and crimped. A student from our business department is in charge of our finances and ordering all inventory. A writer is needed to journal our entire process in our engineer notebook. Our Math and Physics department helps with the layered calculations. We have a student team entirely devoted to design and branding.”

As high school principal, Christopher Siebert said: “This engagement translates into students doing better in other academic areas.”

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