Atwater Elementary Picking Up STEAM

BUG_LOS FELIZ_SCHOOL GUIDE_OCTOBER 2015ATWATER VILLAGE—Atwater Avenue Elementary School is on its way to becoming a “STEAM” school, thanks to the efforts of new principal Jorge Rios.

The purpose of STEAM is to introduce children to five areas of study—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—and foster a passion for these subjects early on.

Rios was assigned to Atwater Elementary in July 2015. He came into the position with over 20 years of experience with the Los Angeles Unified School District under his belt—14 years as an administrator, five years as an assistant principal, and eight years as a principal at Malabar Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights.

And from day one on the job, he’s made it his mission to turn Atwater into a STEAM school, which, according to Rios, involves building and restructuring the curriculum subject-by-subject.

When it comes to integrating science, Atwater Elementary plans to open a new science lab, giving students the chance to observe, investigate and learn the essentials of the scientific method. The school is also planning to improve resources they already have.

At the moment, Atwater Elementary has a computer lab, which is up and running. But, as is often the case, the technology within has become outdated and the lab needs to be revamped. Rios said administrators are also looking at purchasing software and programs to teach students coding.

New to the world of STEAM, the school is looking to nearby Irving Middle School, which offers a STEAM magnet program, as a model.

“A lot of our kids end up going there,” said Rios. “So I want to see what they’re doing, so that we can tie our instruction to their instruction. And therefore, it will be a seamless transition once our kids leave Atwater to go to Irving.”

Developing a STEAM curriculum also involves training the teachers to integrate subjects like art and math into their lesson plans. Rios said he currently has three teachers who are part of a program with Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization that partners with various schools and communities to spread art education.

Once those three teachers are equipped with the skills to integrate STEAM into their curriculum, they’ll work with “designated personnel to train the rest of my staff, hopefully by the end of this year,” Rios said.

Afterschool programs are also being considered. According to Rios, one of his coordinators is looking into forming a music club with the help of Little Kids Rock, an organization that not only provides schoolchildren with instruments, but also builds music programs to teach students to perform and compose.

Rios believes the campus is still about a year off from becoming a STEAM school, but in the meantime, he will seek out community and business partnerships for funding.

“If we’re going to look at enhancing our technology and those aspects of the curriculum, there’s always money that’s involved,” said Rios. “As a small school, we don’t have a lot of extra money, so it’s really incumbent on us to reach out to the community, businesses and corporations to partner with us and offset some of that cost.”

If all goes as planned, Rios said, Atwater Avenue Elementary School could potentially be known as Atwater Avenue STEAM Academy in the near future.

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