On a warm fall afternoon, two girls manipulate clay figures, moving them incrementally against a blank backdrop as they take frame-by-frame photos to create a film. Elsewhere, two boys play with robots they built themselves while others work with computers and a 3-D printer. This is the scene at Holy Child’s new STEAM lab, the first of its kind at the elementary and middle school level in Delaware County. “I think it was essential,” says head of school Margaret Fox-Tully of the $167,500 science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics lab. “It’s a place to play, learn and be creative.
Children as young as pre-kindergarten will have access under teacher supervision. For students up to third grade, the focus will be on computer graphics, data acquisition and robotics, among other topics. Created and installed by Colorado-based Creative Learning Systems, the lab has over 300 lessons designed for groups of two or three students. “They’re teaching us how to be more independent and self-instructed,” says Jay Adams, a seventh grader interested in engineering and technology. “We made a car out of gears, and we’re learning how to use the gears to make it faster and slower,” he says. “We had a couple mess-ups, but we figured it out.”
The STEAM lab encourages students to engage in science- and math-related fields from an early age—something that’s especially important for girls, who sometimes shy away from such subjects. The U.S. Department of Commerce found that, while American women make up roughly half of the total workforce, men hold more than 75 percent of all jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A 2017 study published in the journal Science found that girls are already losing confidence in themselves by age 6, buying into the gender stereotype that their male peers are better at science and math.
Fox-Tully hopes that the new lab at Holy Child will help change that. “[Girls] don’t know they’re doing science and math; they come in and have fun,” she says. “They begin to develop skills that ensure they can confidently continue on in those fields and not feel like it’s a language that doesn’t connect for them.”
Second grader Ava Nast has definitely made a connection. “We get to work with robots,” she says. “One time, we got to control them on an iPad, and they zoomed around the whole STEAM room.”
Partially funded by alumni donors, the lab has been two years in the making. “I have three students here—a fourth grader, a seventh grader and an eighth grader—and they all love it,” says Rebecca Antczak, director of development and alumni relations at Holy Child. “It’s their favorite class.”
The lab is also taking a different approach by incorporating the arts. “Students who want to be writers and filmmakers are going to have to practice their art on a digital platform,” says Fox-Tully, noting the importance of the arts in the overall curriculum. “This is the way education is going—active learning, experiential learning, self-directed. We have to move out of the traditional norms.”