Full STEAM Ahead!

Mount Pleasant Central School District is picking up steam on the path to becoming an innovative, 21st century learning environment .  The two-day STEAM Symposium, held on August 15th and 16th, 2017 at Westlake High School, gave students the opportunity to delve into the world of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics and discover how it can guide their future.  

The symposium was the brain-child of Superintendent Dr. Susan Guiney.  “It all started with an idea to do something fun and engaging for our students that would open their minds to the endless possibilities that come with a STEAM education” Dr. Guiney enthused.  Doing a symposium outside the confines of the school year allowed for maximum creativity in organizing the event.

If Dr. Guiney was the inspiration behind the idea, Westlake Curriculum Leader, Janet Matthews was the driving force to make the symposium a reality.  “Westlake has always had the mission to prepare students to think critically and creatively, to engage students in hands-on learning, and to understand how content knowledge and skills apply to real life.”  No stranger to workshops and symposiums, Ms. Matthews had a vision to offer a variety of workshops led by experts in the fields of STEAM..  With the help of the STEAM committee, and especially Symposium co-chair, Mary Knopp, she was able to recruit a group of coders, forensic experts, science and math teachers, artists, and several engineers from IBM.    Dr. Iris Pagan, the Executive Director of Westchester County’s Youth Bureau and part of the STEAM Advisory Board, said that “there are no other schools in Westchester County offering a program such as this” and that she was proud of all the hard work that brought it to fruition.

The excitement over this innovative event was evident with more than 40 students registering for the program.  Registrants were able to chose four out of eleven offered workshops over the two day period.  Workshops covered such topics as forensic photography (Science), virtual reality (Technology), search and rescue (Engineering), the history of graffiti (Art) and making predictions based on mathematical equations (Math).  Registration was intentionally kept low so that there would be no more than 8-10 students per workshop in order to allow for maximum hands on experience.

At the start of the symposium, students were treated to a nutritious breakfast, thanks to one of the many sponsors, while they listened to keynote speaker Karen McPhearson of Fullstack Academy tell them about how she got started in a career of coding. Two hour break-out sessions allowed students to delve deeper into their chosen subject.  

In the workshop entitled “Hacker Hunt”, instructors used fun games and puzzles to teach students the basics of coding “language” and how to read and write basic code.  Seventh grader Joseph Marrone said that it was his favorite part of the symposium.  8th grader Charlotte Catarina loved “learning about how robots can help people in crisis or in everyday life and learning how to control the robots” in Search and Rescue Engineering.  The day concluded with a demonstration by the “FIRST” High School Robotics team, of which Westlake junior Sarita Servidio is a member.  

Day two followed a similar structure and also included a lunchtime demonstration from IBM engineer Maryam Ashoori.  Ms. Ashoori brought her latest invention TJ Bot - a robot that uses artificial intelligence to answer questions posed to it.  Students got a kick out of asking TJ Bot to shine his light, wave his hand and answer questions.  Several lucky students won their very own TJ Bot kit so they could make one on their own.  

The symposium concluded with a reception for all the presenters, students, and parents.  Each participant was presented with a goodie bag of swag donated by the generous sponsors and several students won more substantial prizes in the end of day raffles.

Dr. Guiney and the committee are already working on planning next year’s event and expect it to attract even more attention, “We want to be known regionally and nationally as a forward thinking, innovative district that provides infinite possibilities to our students”.  As a district, Mount Pleasant is moving full STEAM ahead!