An Integrated Middle School STEM Program

Denver Post

By Josie Klemaier
YourHub Reporter

POSTED:   01/29/2015 

Emily Stec, 12, designs a replica of a school workshop during her iSTEM engineering class at Bell Middle School on Jan. 21, in Golden. The school

Emily Stec, 12, designs a replica of a school workshop during her iSTEM engineering class at Bell Middle School on Jan. 21, in Golden. The school implemented an iSTEM program three years ago and has seen a strong response from parents and students alike. This year, seventh-grade students enrolled in the program will submit designs to overhaul the outdoor property at the school.(Anya Semenoff, YourHub)

GOLDEN — The recess area at Bell Middle School is being redesigned — by the students themselves.

“We want you to think big,” Bell Middle School principal Bridget Jones told the students in Jesse Swift’s pre-engineering class when she announced the plan last week.

Students in Bell’s integrative science, technology, engineering and math program, called iSTEM, will design a dream schoolyard on what adds up to more than 90,000 square feet, according to Swift.

But with these lofty ambitions, Jones also warned students of the realities of safety, budget constraints and time.

“This is real life, guys,” she said.

Jones said it is an example of the real-world experience at the heart of Bell’s iSTEM program, which is similar to an honors program but with STEM focuses. The program, which began three years ago, was the first for a middle school in the Jefferson County Public School District. It is also what Jones partly credits for a rise in school choice applications received for the next school year — more than double last year’s number.

Bell’s iSTEM program is unique because it was wholly developed by Bell teachers and staff, instead of pulling from a prepackaged curriculum.

“We opted to go with our own program and we really had the right teachers at the right time to take this on,” Jones said.

As more Jeffco schools pursue STEM for their students, Matt Flores, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Jefferson County Public Schools, said they are looking at Bell as an example.

“Bell as a middle school is a leader in STEM,” said

Bell’s program started with sixth-graders, now eighth-graders, who worked this year with professionals at Texas A&M and NASA to see how worms compost in space. The program is heavy on teamwork, communication and critical thinking, Jones said, and the school works closely with outside entities such as Colorado School of Mines and the city of Golden to keep kids connected with the community.

Katarina Chaffee, a seventh-grader in Swift’s class, came to Bell this year for the iSTEM program and said she has really liked it so far.

“It’s very interactive and it’s very social, you get a lot of opportunities you think you would never get to do,” she said.

For the schoolyard’s redesign, $70,000 in funding will come from cash-in-lieu financing from Golden that Bell’s PTA identified following a similar project at Mitchell Elementary. PTA members went to Bell’s students to see what they needed, which led to the idea for the STEM project.

“A lot of the kids complained there’s nothing to do, there’s no shade,” said Cheryl Ludford, a former Mitchell Parent-Teacher Association member and now on Bell’s PTA.

By the end of the semester, the students will submit their design plans to a parent-teacher committee, which will fine-tune and select one for the district to put to bid this summer, in time for construction in the fall.

That’s the goal, at least.

“Will we get the playground designed before the end of the year? We don’t know,” Jones said. “But that’s part of the real-world experience.”

Josie Klemaier: 303-954-2465, jklemaier@denverpost.com or twitter.com/JosieKlemaier

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