Education Influencer: Peter Boyle

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The stARTem dream continues thanks to the tribe of professionals and institutions that carry the same heart beat as us - empowering students with the tools to change the world! In 2016, Peter Boyle gave stARTem our first opportunity to impact the state of Arizona. Peter has been a valuable asset and team supporter all throughout our journey. Meet stARTem's first major champion: Peter Boyle. 

Q: What is your educational and professional background? 

A: I first became involved in public education when I was a campus recruiter for Teach For America at the University of North Carolina in 2009.  I was an international business and entrepreneurship major, and although I didn't see myself in the classroom (yet), I did feel that my contribution to the cause of educational equity would be to recruit others to join our movement.  As so often happens, in the process of selling others on a cause, you end up selling yourself - and I joined Teach For America as a middle school English teacher at Pioneer Preparatory School: A Challenge Foundation Academy ("Pioneer Prep: CFA"), a new public charter school in west Phoenix.  After two years teaching, during which I earned my Masters in Education from Arizona State University., our families approached us about starting a high-quality, small, rigorous high school program to continue the work of Pioneer Prep: CFA - and that's how Western School of Science and Technology: A Challenge Foundation Academy ("Western: CFA"), where I have been founder and principal since we opened in 2014, was born.

Q: Who are your role models professional and/or personally?

When I was teaching, I always tried to channel my favorite English teacher growing up - Mrs. Mia Lindsay.  She made reading and writing fun for us - choosing rich, rigorous texts, leading strong student-based discussions, and designing lessons and assignments that pushed our thinking.  I always tried to do that when I was teaching, too.

Q: What did you want to become when you were young?

Believe it or not, my first conscious memories were of wanting to be a teacher.  I come from a family of educators - my mom, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all public school teachers.  We would go to teacher stores, and I would stock up on supplies, and my stuffed animals would be the students (albeit very compliant ones).  I actually wrote my college admissions essay, entitled "If you could be a fly on the wall anywhere, where would it be and why?", on how I wanted to be in my high school teacher's lounge.  Although I didn't focus on education in undergrad, I definitely decided to come back to those roots after college.

Q: How did you become involved with stARTem?

A mutual acquaintance of Megan and mine connected us as Megan was looking to pilot the program.  stARTem is very aligned with the STEM focus of our school, and also addressed our school's need for an arts program.

Q: Why is STEM education important for your students?

As our name suggests, we are a STEM school.  But, not in the traditional sense.  While we do teach computer coding, and all students have classes in science labs, and all students have laptops that they can use at school and at home, our focus is on problem-based education.  Students use the Stanford Design Thinking Process to identify real-world problems in our school or the community, and then design and prototype solutions for those problems.  We see this as students' avenue for changing their world.

Q: What impact has stARTem had on your educational institution?

 As a small school, it's tough for us to be able to provide all of the programs central to a well-rounded education.  We firmly believe arts programs are critical to all students' educations - and that they jell perfectly with our STEM focus.  However, we aren't able to bring on a full-time art teacher.  What stARTem does is provide mission-aligned, high-quality STEM-integrated arts instruction at a reasonable cost.  It's important to us, too, that Megan has an educational background.  stARTem perfect fills our arts education needs!

Q: Why would you encourage other schools to partner with Megan's program?

In John Hattie's landmark meta-study looking at the impact size of various interventions and their impact on student learning, creativity and arts programs have a statistically-significant impact on students' achievement - more than direct instruction, mathematics programs, or parental involvement.  Not including arts programs as central to students' curricular experiences would thus have a detrimental impact on their learning.  Megan's program provides not just these creativity programs, but integrated with STEM curriculum in such a way as to make both more relevant.