RURAL SCHOOL DISTRICT LAUNCHES DISTANCE LEARNING STEM ACADEMY PROGRAM IN ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY, CYBERSECURITY AND DRONE INSPECTIONS
Salamanca, NY. —Faculty and administrators at Salamanca High School are busy preparing for a NEW virtual STEM academy, anticipated to launch during the 2021-2022 school year.
Locally, corporate farming, utility work, and advanced manufacturing make up some of the high-impact employers in our region," said Salamanca's STEAM Coordinator, Aaron Straus. "This highlights a significant skills gap that must be addressed to meet expected industry demand.”
Beginning in the fall, students will have the opportunity to enroll in "Project SAMI," a comprehensive distance-learning STEM program where students may study one of eight "high-impact, college majors" in drone inspections, engineering technology & cybersecurity. The new distance learning initiative is designed to bridge the gap between K-12 education, college coursework, and job readiness so that students can be more prepared to enter jobs once finished with high school.
"On one end, we have the trade students that receive career and technical education training through our local BOCES; on the other side of the spectrum, we have advanced STEM track students, who are taking AP and college-credit courses at Salamanca and anticipate moving on to a university program in engineering or Premedical Science. Somewhere, mixed or between are a group of students who may or may not go to college but need that extra-workforce training so that they may secure a gainful career upon exit from our high school."
Whether students choose to take advanced courses at their base school, attend BOCES or enroll in a college program, school officials say this program will advance the district's strategic plan to prioritize PK-12 Life Skills, Responsibility, and Critical Thinking.
"For months, before the pandemic and throughout the pandemic, our instructional work continued," said district superintendent Robert Breidenstein. "We are excited to share this project with the community and even more excited to begin the work in year two of our plan."
Currently, the district uses a WozEd as the K-12 STEM pipeline curriculum, where students engage in hands-on activities during a STEM Specials class. Students take Technology classes at the middle school level to learn more about different career paths, including Engineering, Coding, Mobile Development & Drones. Seventh and Eighth graders have the opportunity to visit scientific research facilities or Manufacturing Facilities. They can also attend STEM Summer School Camps to gather their career interests further. However, in the wake of the Pandemic, where distance learning Technology became at the forefront of educational discussion, faculty and staff looked for creative ways to continue STEM instruction through remote applications.
"At the time our schools began coping with the reality that remote education might be here to stay, the district decided to change its tactics on how and what students would learn. A portion of that plan involved heavy investment distance learning tools," Beehler said. "The beauty of the Project SAMI program model is that it can be implemented in a remote or conventional setting and that students have a hand in determining which competencies they want to tackle when, and how quickly they choose to do so."
The SAMI curriculum is divided into a number of different modules that students are expected to master. Each term, students are given a set of self-paced online lesson activities, which they can work through as fast as they want. Once they complete one bunch, they will be rolled out into the next level of competencies. According to Salamanca's Educational Technologist, Susan Schnaufer, what makes Project SAMI stand out from other remote learning solutions districts have used in the past, is its unique interface, tools, and output focus.
"A learning management system (LMS) is the virtual learning environment that can administer both time-bound courses as well as self-paced learning options such as competency-based Project SAMI…," said Schnaufer. "Our program documents and tracks learner progress, supports multiple methods of assessment (quizzing, grades, rubrics, media submissions, etc.). Additionally, it incorporates leveled, hands-on equipment, shipped directly to the student's home and unique industry-driven simulators, where students can practice the skill on a virtual equipment piece before using the real thing."
The high school structured the program as an unscheduled elective class that students can work on 40-minutes a day during study hall, lunch or after school hours, hand-in-hand with their liberal art coursework. High School Principal Christopher Siebert says Project faculty will serve as a "content resource" for questions and program guidance rather than as front-end instructional facilitators.
"We have specialized faculty there for academic and content support," he offers. "If students are stuck on a question or project, they can reach out to their faculty member at any time and expect a response within 24 hours."
During their senior year, students will have the opportunity to create an Individual Project SAMI capstone project relevant to the area needs and their course of study and receive a voucher for taking one or more industry-standard tests that verify their occupational and skill capacity.
"The Capstone experience allows seniors who exit the classroom to engage in real-world experience for an internship, a service-learning project, and/or a research project.," said Dr. Graham Hayes, who worked in the geographic information systems (GIS) industry for 30 years and helped shape the Project SAMI program. "The capstone project requires students to devote 60-90 hours to solve a problem for a stakeholder group. Students will present these results to a business or local, county or state official/entity in regard to findings or recommendations."
Currently, the program maintains 20 new students per academic school year, but Straus says that number can increase.
"This is our pilot year, so we wanted to start the program off with conservative numbers," said Straus. "We are working with our neighbors at the Seneca Nation of Indians and partner Non Profit organizations to locate and secure corporate sponsorship or grant funding that can directly increase our seat capacity. We hope to eventually open this program up to neighboring districts, through grant-underwriting and partnership efforts, tuition-free."
The faculty and students are "excited" to finally get the program underway, as so many have become invested in it and want it to be perfect for students.
"The hands-on approach Salamanca takes to distance learning education could "reimagine," [the right way] how we deliver virtual curriculum and content to students," Straus said. "It would be a positive change…The SAMI Program is workforce-driven and immersive; students can truly see how learning objectives are connected across the different curriculum." For more information on the program, visit www.salamancany.or