OPINION

Johnson STEAM Academy will round out Cedar Rapids' innovative learning programs

(Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
(Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
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After community input and idea generation in 2013-2014 the Cedar Rapids Community School District moved forward to create a magnet school at Johnson Elementary.

Parents and the community asked for a few key things: 1) more choice for families to meet their children’s specific learning needs and interests; 2) a place to introduce innovative, future-relevant school models to help inform the District’s future moves, and; 3) to create a themed magnet school representing the community’s identity and values.

Set to open this fall, the Johnson STEAM Academy will serve the Johnson families as well as families from across the district as a STEAM-themed school (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics).

A magnet school is a theme-based school providing parent choice in the type of learning environment they want for their child. While the JSA will remain a neighborhood school, parents outside the Johnson attendance area may apply to have their child attend the JSA.

The JSA will still be responsible for all the state mandates, testing requirements and expectations for student learning as all other schools. Students at the JSA will learn through integrated projects and with same and different aged peers. Students will be able to leverage their personal passions and interests as a vehicle to learn how to read, write, do math, and conduct scientific and historical inquiry.

Students will learn important 21st century skills and engage in solving real problems in the school and community. “Learning science” might look like a student garden where they apply their math skills to engineer their plot and apply art to make it visually appealing or tell a story. They may write, read, speak, and blog about gardening and their garden. They will work across grade levels and classrooms to learn together and discover how food makes it to market and about the financial side of food. They will use technology to explore, build, construct, experiment, and connect the content of the classroom to real contexts and situations.

This is an important step for our community. We now have innovative, break-the-mold learning environments at all levels of our school system: Iowa BIG at the high school level, the Roosevelt Option at middle school, and Johnson STEAM Academy join many innovative efforts happening throughout our district.

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We are excited about these new learning opportunities. Even more, we are appreciative that our community is pushing us to make new things happen and supporting us as we inevitably slip and trip on our way forward. While it is sometimes scary to think beyond simply improving the educational experience we had, it is imperative we create for our children what our forefathers built for us: a learning system designed for their future rather than our past. At the end of the day, we are going to co-create a new way forward for the benefit of all our children and our community. As we learn and develop, we anticipate offering more and more of these sorts of learning environments to meet all the needs in our community.

• Trace Pickering is Associate Superintendent for the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Comments: tpickering@cr.k12.ia.us; (319) 558-1131

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