NORWALK, Conn. — Add the letter “A” to the plans for Ponus Middle School.
Instead of opening as a K-8 STEM magnet school when construction is complete, if the a new proposal gets approved, PONUS will open as a K-8 STEAM school.
The Board of Education Curriculum Committee on Tuesday voted to refer the proposed switch from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to STEAM (all that plus Art) to the BoE Facilities Committee for consideration. The Committee also voted to establish a task force to study the idea.
Norwalk has been said to be on the verge of breaking ground on its first new school project in more than 20 years, an expansion of Ponus Middle School into a K-8 magnet school. The proposed switch from STEM to STEAM is going to the Facilities Committee so that members can “make sure there are no design issues, cost issues or issues with the state, staffing issues or training,” Curriculum Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel said, adding, “We have done some background and are fairly comfortable with the change.”
Two years ago, then-Board of Education member Yvel Crevecoeur pushed unsuccessfully to make the other new school that is planned, at the Nathaniel Ely site, a STEAM school.
A STEAM school would be too expensive, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said, explaining that NPS had the shortest day of any school system in Fairfield County and and there were not enough hours in the current school day to have a STEAM curriculum.
“There are no STEAM schools in CT. We would be starting from scratch and would have to ‘re-invent’ the wheel,” BoE Facilities Chairman Mike Barbis said at the time. “There is already a very strong arts program in NPS including our music, drama, etc. programs – more than other school districts.”
NPS has added a half-hour to the elementary school day.
The Ely school is planned to become the new home of Columbus Magnet School and its Bank Street model of instruction. Once that’s complete, the Concord Street school will be renovated to become an International Baccalaureate school, in the plan.
When NPS declined to go STEAM, “We did not have anyone on the staff at the time who had any understanding between STEM and STEAM,” Kimmel said Tuesday. “…Most schools around the country, they were leapfrogging it, going from STEM to STEAM. The schools become more competitive, more attractive, things like that. So we basically are starting from scratch and we would be foolish not to go to STEAM. Now we have, I guess, the Central Office infrastructure to deal with this stuff, which we didn’t have before.”
STEAM would be “very welcome,” BoE member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said.
Myers said that the children are being prepared to enter the workforce.
“We know that, what the statistics say right now, in national labor market, 30-40 percent of our children are going to enter fields where design and the arts are part of the work. Whether it’s marketing, or graphic design or visual analysis, all of these are visual representations of work and they all have the art to them,” she said.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco indicated support but said, “It feels like we make these switches sometimes that are very abrupt. It’s a good swithc but it’s that same thing. I left `school this afternoon and everyone was talking about, ‘We are going to be a STEM school. What’s going on? We haven’t had the training, we haven’t talked about this.’”