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Pasco County opens its first STEAM magnet school

The nation’s best schools are places where children can grow, discover and learn in a collaborative environment, asking questions to help them gain a deeper understanding of subject matter in a way that facilitates lifelong learning.

That’s what Pasco County’s Sanders Memorial Elementary School plans to be when it opens in August, 2015. 

The county’s first magnet school for elementary students, Sanders has a unique emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) subjects. 

The STEAM focus is workforce-driven, with the prediction that jobs in STEM fields are increasing at double the rate of non-STEM fields. The addition of the arts exemplifies the role arts play in creative problem solving and innovative thinking critical to all careers. 

“That’s important to Pasco, when we look at college, career and life readiness,” says Jason Petry, recently appointed Principal at Sanders. “We want to start installing an excitement and curiosity about these subjects in students at a young age.”

A New Port Richey native and University of South Florida graduate, Petry has worked in Pasco County schools for all of his career. His passion and excitement about the learning environment at Sanders is evident by hearing him speak. 

“This school will look different, and it will feel different,” says Petry.

The LEED-certified buildings will feature group learning stations, where students will at times move in between classrooms during the day. The hands-on instruction will allow them to make real-world connections. To borrow from entrepreneurship education, Sanders will employ a “failing forward” philosophy, which believes that perseverance through failure is key to providing a positive learning experience. 

As a public school, Sanders will mirror other schools in the district. The curriculum will include the same core standards that other public schools adhere to, but with the addition of STEAM-focused subjects such as computer coding. Arts subjects such as design thinking, music and humanities will be integrated into the curriculum.

“Engagement is a big factor,” says Lauren Burdick, STEAM coordinator, K-12 for the Pasco County School District. “We want to create a felt need in students and relate that to concepts around STEAM.” 

With 1,699 applicants for the 762 openings at the school, the need is evident. According to Burdick, the county has implemented project-based learning and cross-curricular connections in other schools throughout the district as well. 

Pasco aims to expand the model to middle and high schools in the future.

Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

Megan Hendricks is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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