STEAM Curriculum Takes Root at Shaker
Though Shaker will not adopt universal STEAM approach, STEAM opportunities exist
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Shaker is known for its schools, and Shaker schools are known for the arts. The seemingly endless list of arts classes means opportunity for anyone and everyone looking to expand their creative horizons. With changes in the middle school and an increase in STEM focus at the high school, the STEAM program at Shaker stands firm, although Shaker is not a STEAM school.
More STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) job opportunities around the world has brought STEM subjects to the foreground in education. As testing puts more pressure on teachers and administrators, the focus shifts to quantifiable learning in STEM subjects, and the arts take a backseat. Arts are much more difficult to test, after all. Shaker continues to implement a type of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) curriculum, but it doesn’t teach STEM in the interknit curriculum plan that STEAM schools use.
“We are moving in a STEM direction with the initiation of the 7th and 8th grade Design course,” stated Scott Stephens, director of communications in an email interview. “Schools that are designated as STEM or STEAM typically embed ALL of these topics (science, tech, etc.) into all courses.”
Shaker may be moving in a STEM direction with new courses, but Stephens believes Shaker will not be calling itself a STEM or STEAM school in the future. “We have never branded the school as one or the other on STEAM or STEM. Our philosophy instead is to have robust options,” he said. “Curriculum is always a balancing act. Our goal as a district is to be able to offer students a wide ranging, robust, holistic experience.”
Repeatedly, Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. has pushed for more STEAM at Shaker schools. STEAM was a major topic at the 2014 State of the Schools address and it has remained a topic through the 2015 and 2016 addresses, though not as prominent as the first.
The middle school implemented major schedule changes this year, one being that, because class periods are extended, students now choose to study either visual arts or music. If the students choose to take both, they must make up their IB Design course after school.
David Glasner, middle school principal, reflected on the changes. “Though there was some initial concern about the changes to our program, both the extended art and IB Design classes have been well received,” he stated.
Glasner believes that the arts programs have benefited from the change, even though students’ options are narrowed. “This is the first time that we have had a year-long arts course. As a result of the extended course, our students are able to pursue more in-depth experience in the visual arts,” he stated. “Our music program continues to excel and we have many students who participate across all music ensembles.”
Senior Sarah Jacobs takes IB Portfolio, and she appreciates how open the Shaker system is about the arts. “I think that just the number of options at Shaker give students shows that Shaker wants them to stay in the arts,” she said. “Rather than trying to shove people into, like, the sciences or the maths or something. It’s very fostering.”
Junior Darby Grant enjoys starting her day off with wind ensemble, but she thinks it helps her throughout the rest of the school day as well. “I’d say it would definitely improve focus and learning,” she said. “I think it translates into academics when you have to push yourself to keep working even during the most challenging parts.”
The arts are an important factor in developing the teenage brain, however, they have other benefits that are just as valuable. Arts are proven to relieve stress, and they help give Shaker students some refreshing variety of learning within a busy school life. In fact, some students don’t even consider their art or music classes to be a part of school. The difference is, they want to attend class.
“For me it’s like a way to step back from the school and academic part and just focus on my other hobbies,” said senior Lily Schulte-Lawrence. “It’s like a de-stressor. Because it’s something I want to do. It’s optional but something I feel very strongly about.”
Music and art therapy is offered as a complimentary service at the Cleveland Clinic. Many institutions offer this type of therapy because of its numerous benefits. According to the Cleveland Clinic website, music and art therapy helps to: decrease pain and anxiety, improve coping skills, enhance self esteem, provide opportunities for self-expression, provide a sense of control, promote relaxation and improve attention span.
The difference between arts therapy and the arts taught at school? Arts therapy is done with a therapist.
“For me art is very therapeutic,” Jacobs said. “I mean, I still have a lot of work and there are deadlines I have to meet, but it’s a type of relaxation.”
“I think Shaker is moving in more of a STEAM direction because we have so much of an emphasis on the arts here,” said Caroline Markel, math teacher and former web design teacher. “We’re not cutting back any of our art programs and I think a really a wonderful thing about our district is all of the extracurriculars. And I don’t think those will ever disappear.”
However, the ball is definitely rolling when it comes to focusing STEM courses at Shaker. “IB computer science course and some things like that that will be coming in the near future,” said Stephens. “In preparing students for college and career and life, that involves technology. We’ve tried to embed technology in everything we do. As it is in life. They have to be part of all curriculum not just some.”
“My family is more oriented towards STEM,” said Jacobs. “My passion has been in the arts and I think one of the most important parts of of my high school experience was integrating the two and that was something that I did during the Cleveland Clinic show when we got a science topic and had to make it into some piece of art.”
For many Shaker students who study art or music, the teachers are appreciated the most.
The faculty pushes students to strive for excellence and is always there to help,” Grant said. “They definitely take the musical abilities that people already have and push them to a different level.”
Senior Sophia Ciccarelli agreed. “They challenge you to become better at what you’re good at,” she said. “In general, it’s kind of like a big family.
Ciccarelli plays in Shaker’s wind ensemble. She thinks that Shaker schools value the arts a great deal. “The arts are at a more equal level with other academics at Shaker,” she said. “I think it’s just more that there are arts and academics in the school as one, and there aren’t just arts in the school.”
Sophomore Krysta Aulak credits Shaker with funding the arts programs to keep them soaring to new heights.
Ciccarelli said, “I’m definitely fortunate to live in a community that strives not only for academic excellence but for musical excellence as well.”