The National Science Foundation initially coined the term “STEM” to refer to an educational approach that integrates four disciplines. So, for many parents and teachers, a STEM education may initially appear to be a big area of study for young children because, this type of education involves not just one subject but four subjects/disciplines. However, in reality, young children are very curious by nature so they will instinctively engage in STEM activities.
When delivered effectively, STEM education has a proven track record to close the academic achievement gap for urban minority students because, each of the four subjects can use the environment as an integrating context for learning (Lieberman, G.A., & Hoody, L.L., 2002). Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning (EIC), defines a framework for interdisciplinary, collaborative, hands-on, project-based, and engaged learning. When EIC is used by schools, it has significantly improved low-income students’ academic performance and enriched all students’ overall school experience (Lieberman, G.A., & Hoody, L.L., 2002).
More recent research also shows when Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) programs use science-based informational text and hands-on STEM experiments as part of their “Storytelling” activities, this can help Black & Hispanic students improve their reading and reading comprehension skills because the students are reading with a purpose in mind (University of Texas – Austin, 2014). For example, reading and learning about the Engineering Design Process; and the “unspoken” Pioneers in STEM such as, the Black and Hispanic Inventors in America and their patented inventions, which have made great contributions to America and the entire world!
Unfortunately, when it comes to offering STEM education in New Jersey Public Schools, research studies and case law have shown that the majority of Public Schools in New Jersey continue to operate in a way that causes a disproportionately high number of Black and Hispanic students not to be exposed to an inclusive STEM education in comparison to White and Asian students [Disability Rights NJ vs. NJ Department of Education, 2014]. And, this high number becomes even higher when the students are in low-performing urban Public Schools such as, those Public Schools in Newark, Plainfield, Perth Amboy, Asbury Park, Trenton, and Camden [Disability Rights NJ vs. NJ Department of Education, 2014].
When children are allowed to explore the natural environment such as, air, water and land; living and non-living things; and they get to conduct child science investigations by asking questions about the types of animals and plants that exist on the planet Earth, they are actually experiencing the wonderful benefits of Science. In today’s world, young children are already exposed to 21st Century Technology such as, laptop computers, iPads, Tablets and cell phones. Note: Research shows urban inner city children unfortunately use these devices not to help improve their reading, reading comprehension and math skills, but they are used merely for recreational purposes (National Science Foundation, 2012). As for the other two disciplines in STEM, during any given day at Pneuma Academy, our young students will play with gumdrops and wooden blocks. As they count the number of gumdrops and blocks, they will be working with different shapes, sizes and heights of materials which will allow them to successfully build and construct different types of bridges, towers and ramps. This type of purposeful play incorporates Engineering and Mathematics.
HOLISTIC Approach & Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
Since the whole child goes to school, the Pneuma STEM program will be delivered using a holistic approach with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) supplemental programs that are designed to help support and nurture a child’s mind, body, emotional development and social sense of identity. Studies have shown when an educational program has (SEL) techniques at the core of its pedagogy with full integration of SEL skills in the daily schedule, there is generally an increase in self-esteem, improved abilities to help others, and a greater personal responsibility for resolving conflicts among participating youngsters (CASEL-Safe and Sound, 2003). These insights from experts have alerted Pneuma educators to the critical value of holistic education. By strengthening and increasing social and emotional educational opportunities, our Learning & Cultural Center will not only create a school culture that supports positive discipline, but it will also provide a strong institutional framework proven to increase all students’ capacity to learn.