Educational efforts in East Aurora School District 131 are picking up momentum — or, more accurately, gaining S.T.E.A.M.
EASD 131 is in the process of realigning its curriculum and programs to be more focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math. With a $550,000 grant award from the Dunham Fund, the vision will become a reality beginning with the 2017-18 school year.
The "Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow" initiative will focus on kindergarten and first-grade students and be headquartered at the Benavides Kindergarten Center at 250 E. Indian Trail in Aurora. Two adjoining buildings will be utilized as well for creation of the Benavides S.T.E.A.M. Academy.
"We are delighted to learn about this important grant from Dunham Fund," said Dr. Mark McDonald, interim superintendent for District 131. "Mr. Dunham's generosity will once again greatly benefit young people who will become tomorrow's leaders."
The Academy anticipates it will educate 475 students in 2017-18 with the potential of adding 800 preschool students in 2018 that would result in over 1,200 students enrolled in a S.T.E.A.M.-based curriculum.
"Our vision is to provide passionate and collaborative educators, strong partnerships, and relevant curricula so that our young learners will build a strong foundation to a successful future," said Beatrice Reyes-Childress, assistant superintendent for educational services.
Experts agree that increasing students' knowledge and understanding in S.T.E.A.M. curriculum is a national imperative. A Carnegie Foundation commission of leaders concluded the nation's capacity to innovate and thrive in in the modern workplace depends on a foundation of math and science learning.
Nationwide, S.T.E.A.M. jobs are projected to grow 13 percent in the next five years, with the anticipated increase slightly higher (16%) in Illinois. However, data also indicates the East Aurora community does not have the skilled workforce necessary to meet the increasing demand—a shortcoming that much of the country is experiencing and beginning to address.
"By encouraging scientific innovation and collaboration in the educational and community development programs, we help effect positive change," said Dunham Fund board member Mark Truemper. "The research is clear that this kind of learning builds skills and interests that serve children throughout their school years and beyond the classroom to a brighter future."