Lessons from a #STEAM teacher

Written by Megan Epley, Founder

“We create magic in the classroom” has become our new theme to stARTem. It's inspired and influenced by this TED Talk from Dr. Chris Emdin.

I find Dr. Emdin to be an educational hero, accomplishing phenomenal milestones within the urban education community. For example, he designed a curriculum that teaches science through hip-hop. WHERE CAN I SIGN UP FOR THAT CLASS?! 

If you see any correlation between Dr. Emdin's organization and stARTem, it's because this man has significantly impacted my philosophy on education.

Dr. Emdin discusses how a foundational element to teaching is beginning to understand our students and grow together in interests, strengths and education.

My goal as a teacher has always been to relate with students, understand who they are as well as their learning patterns and help them explore the best way for them to connect the dots.

Years ago, I had a student in one of my intervention groups (working with students who were below grade level), ask me if she was in my group because she was dumb. I told her “absolutely not.

You just see the world differently like all of us, that’s what makes you unique, and I’m just here to help you figure out how we can all see the world such as our education in the same way. I’m here to help you connect the dots and help you see what’s the best way is for you to learn.”

With that foundation, all my assigned student groups made significant growth improvement, some up to two years worth of learning!

All these girls and boys needed was a space created to help them feel safe using outside-the-box learning approaches and unique discovery methods. Ultimately, I wanted these students to learn that they matter and can grow into dynamic learners and human beings. To this day, I still smile thinking about the moments my students stood proudly in their learning successes. 

This philosophy of putting the student FIRST, is the platform on how the vision of stARTem was cast.

Something beautiful I always find with teaching, is that students often inspire us and challenge us to learn, more than we teach them. I witnessed how simplicity of getting to know someone affected their entire life and sparked significant changes in the classroom. Integrating art more and more into my lessons, I knew there was magic to be bloomed. 

Then I took the jump.

I asked: What was missing or restricting students from developing their strengths and skills?

That’s when I started designing the stARTem curriculum. I quit my full-time, salaried teaching job with benefits to start something on my own.

In the Spring of 2016, I pitched my program to Peter Boyle, the founding director of Western School of Technology. He enthusiastically said that he wanted to become stARTem's first community partner! My heart exploded with gratitude. 

Now if I can take a moment to offer some advice to people who want to launch their dreams:
1. Find those people that have the same mission and vision as you.
2. Surround yourself with folks, who believe that your organization will make significant impact.
3. Don’t you ever lose contact with these humans. You never know what magic will be there when you find those people that "get it."

I had met with Peter in the Fall of 2015 and knew there could be possible synergy there, so I kept in touch with him. Fast-forward years later, and we are now celebrating Western's third year as a partner. It's a complete dream!

Also,

4. Sending emails over and over again to a possible great connection isn’t annoying. It’s dedication. Some will never respond but some will months later like our new partnership with the Washington School District. Don’t give up on vocalizing your passion.

Now let’s fast forward to stARTem…

Three years after my jump I’m humbled and proud to say stARTem is in a stable and growing place. We’re providing more opportunities for students to discover their creative problem solving skills through our rigorous art lessons that integrates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) connections.

Blending these two subjects that reflect STEAM, helps students connect the dots and strengthened their capability to grow, learn and be wildly creative.

stARTem has brought:

1. More direction to our students' college and career paths, focusing on areas that celebrate STEAM and their personal brilliance!
2. More student engagement and improved attendance
3. Improved test scores in other subject areas.

Year one, our STEAM programs impacted 125 students.

Year three, it’s grown to 1,000 students!

This magic bloomed because of our passionate team members! We now have a team of five individuals: two teachers, one community development specialist, one curriculum specialist, and myself.

There’s only one response to this especially if you’ve been in the process of this journey with me and that’s, “WOW!” 

I still can’t believe it's taken awhile for this to come to light, but that’s really where all the strength and magic comes from, enduring the process and celebrating it.

If bumps and straight paths never occurred then we would have never impacted that dramatic number within our three years of existence. And really this has all be ignited by our amazing supporters along the way. Mentors, family members, friends, community members as well as teachers!

This past year we can all agree how mighty it is when educators come together. Their passion alone is inspiring, and we’re so fortunate to begin working with more teachers throughout the Valley. 

This coming school year (2018-19) stARTem will:

1. Partner with five schools
2. Launch more after-school programs
3. Host professional development workshops for teachers
4. Offer lessons through our website
5. Host a fundraising event that we cannot wait to announce! It will be magical.

Once again I am so honored and humbled to have your support in stARTem bringing magic into the classroom.

I’ll leave you with one student quote who is a sophomore at Western. He said, “I’m always allowed to be myself in class. You challenge me to figure it out and even if it’s world domination, you support me.”

stARTem is here to support and inspire our next generation with creative STEAM opportunities!