By Teresa Sermersheim
The engines of education at P.A. Walsh STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Academy are going at full speed, empowering our school to help young learners to be “on track for the future” (our school motto).
I’d like to speak to a long-time perception that many in the community have about P.A. Walsh that it underperforms in comparison to other schools. Our 630 students — from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade — are taught by dedicated teachers in 25 classrooms who all chose to work at our academy for the excitement of being on the cutting edge of educating young people in an innovative learning environment. Unlike many schools, P.A. Walsh has faced and continues to face the challenge of serving families with socio-economic struggles. About 80 percent of our children qualify for free or reduced lunch programs.
In August, P.A. Walsh celebrated its renaissance with the community in a ribbon-cutting ceremony where we introduced parents and students and the community to the newly formed STEAM Academy and an updated campus that was worked on during the summer thanks to Measure G funding. Each second through sixth grade student entered classrooms where many of them discovered for the first time computer technology, such as Chromebooks, that could be used for their own academic success. The pre-kindergarten to first graders were provided with tablets that allow them to learn through digital media, send emails to teachers (our first graders accomplished this last month!), do collaborative classwork, and even learn how to code computers through drag and drop picture programming technology.
This technology has opened the doors to an exciting learning environment for students and teachers alike. Many teachers are impressed by the opportunities the technology provides students in learning and how far they’ve come in less than half a year as a new focused academy. Our teachers have embraced the technology themselves. Recently, our teachers attended a training workshop and came to the meeting with computers in hand, ready to use them in the training. We found we were the only school where the teachers brought and expected to use their laptops. This shows that our teachers and our students are fully comfortable using the technology in all aspects of school community life.
The filmmaker Walt Disney has become a hero to our school. Disney embraced science in the pursuit of creating works of animation art, which follows in line with our school STEAM philosophy. We have developed a partnership with the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Each of our students will enjoy a field trip to the museum where they will actively make movies or star in them as characters. We had our first field trip in November and by the end of January every student will have visited the museum and become exposed to the ideas Disney conveyed in incorporating science and art. We’re going to have a Disney celebration on the evening of Friday Feb. 27 where all of the students’ video stories will be shown to parents and the public. Disney has generously offered to cater the event, showing that they truly take this partnership seriously and want the Morgan Hill community to be a part of it.
Through out technology and Disney partnership, we at P.A. Walsh want to not just educate young people, but inspire them to dream big. We also want to provide them with new experiences that give all our students a level playing ground for learning. One exciting activity that we provide our older learners is allowing them to watch 10-minutes a school day of the Kids’ CNN News and find out for themselves about current events across the nation and around the world and write about what the news. This will empower them to be more proactive as informed individuals when they get to voting age and take on leadership roles in the community and in their families. They each watch the Kids’ CNN broadcast and documentaries on their Chromebook with earbuds, thus being able to re-play a segment they might not have understood and be in control of their own academic learning.
Please feel free to visit P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy and discover why we are on the right “track for the future.”
Teresa Sermersheim is the principal of P.A. Walsh. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.