“At Bluffton Elementary School and Early Childhood Center, our community of professionals is committed to developing and educating the whole child. Through innovative approaches to learning, we address the needs of each child by encouraging creativity, confidence, and individuality. We prepare students for the world by exposing them to cutting-edge technology, arts, specialized and challenging academic programs, community-wide mutual partnerships with authentic situations and consistent expectations. Diversity is focused by encouraging respect for and understanding of different backgrounds and points of view.” ~Bluffton Elementary Vision
As stated in our vision, Bluffton Elementary seeks to academically support all our students through STEM avenues. Our student body consists of 635 students, which includes 55% males and 45% females. The ethnicity is 37% of Hispanic origin, 43% white, 12% African-American and the remainder is comprised of mixed races or Asian descent. Bluffton Elementary also houses four self-contained classrooms; two are identified intellectually delayed, and two are specific learning disabilities. All students are offered the opportunities to participate in our STEM school choice of Animation, Creation, and Design. Students not only receive STEM integrated lessons in the classrooms but are exposed to STEM-focused experiences during the related arts of Art through Animation, Elementary Engineering, Introduction to Game Design and Technology Lab. Two unique sign-up classes offered are Science Lab and a Makerspace to allow for the students to continue problem-solving and creating either through collaboration or independently.
All students are exposed to STEM with a Computer Science approach. Students are given an opportunity to explore coding, gaming, animation, app design, a maker space, and more. This exploration allows our students, especially minority and females, to find an interest that might otherwise have not been discovered. The 21st Century learners need to know how the world around them works, especially in relation to technology. The job market has blossomed with careers in technology as of late. Our students will lead the way in building a workforce that is ready to meet the needs of this ever changing world in which we live.
One of the strongest benefits is the diversity and inquisitiveness of our staff. The diversity comes from the age differences as well as backgrounds that make up our current staff. We have beginning teachers as well as seasoned staff members that have extensive years in education. Our staff represents a variety of countries, including United Kingdom, Brazil, and Colombia. Bluffton Elementary employs five male teachers who bring a unique perspective to our staff. The inquisitiveness is the most exciting part of our current staff. They are risk takers that enjoy testing all new technology devices and programs. The district looks to us as a test site for new programs that are under consideration. The staff is constantly looking for new things to try with the students in the area of STEM. They search the internet and share the links with colleagues. Teachers come in over the summer to create Google files on resources for STEM lessons. The staff has ventured beyond a typical classroom environment to include alternative ways to address students’ needs. This continued collaboration among staff will allow our school choice to grow and prosper as we share our ideas. With the variety of experiences, Bluffton Elementary can provide students with a unique look at the world around them.
In order to sustain our STEM school choice, we recognize that professional development is an ongoing task. The professional development continues with our partnership with Discovery Education for Year 2 and with our collaboration with the United Kingdom. The staff is effectively utilizing the train the trainer model in helping new staff members grasp the expectations and STEM values. Some of these trainings are in-school, and others are at the district level. On-going teacher collaboration occurs both vertically and horizontally with Summer Curriculum days and scheduled curriculum days during the school year.
While we are proud of the opportunities we have afforded our students, the biggest hurdle to creating a STEM technology-rich program like ours is that technology changes constantly. Unlike traditional classroom instruction which is often only limited by the teacher’s own imagination, for technology-supported curriculum like programming, robotics, and animation to reach its full potential, specific equipment is required. Unlike materials-rich courses like art, physical education or even science labs whose equipment will eventually wear out or run out, technology-heavy classes may have plenty of new-looking equipment that is actually completely obsolete. We have worked tirelessly to rearrange our budget so that the right faculty and best resources are available to our students. Our district is very supportive of our STEM school choice and equally provides additional resources to help sustain the changes.
It is a given that to exist in the 21st Century, a citizen will have to know how to use computers or other devices, navigate the web, use email and a variety of other skills that may not even yet be a part of our daily lives. But we do not just want our students to “exist;” we want them to thrive. We do not simply want to prepare them to use new technology; we want them to create the technology on which everyone else comes to rely. Our elementary STEM program will provide the strongest of foundations as our students move forward in their education.