We made a promise to our students in August 2013. The Big Bear Middle School staff made a vow to undertake the development of a STEM Academy like no other in San Bernardino County. Utilizing our unique location and capitalizing on our local network of professionals in various STEM fields, we made a commitment to develop a program that was community-based and opportunistic in nature. What started as a promise became a reality for one class of 36 students at BBMS for the 2013-2014 school year. This year, local demand and further commitment from our community has expanded our program to include nearly 150 full-time, middle school students. That initial promise has blossomed into a vibrant, ever-growing program tucked away in our high mountain valley.
At this time, our program offers three additional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) elective classes as well as an after school LEGO robotics program to reach out to other students that are not currently enrolled in the STEM Academy. Our academy is intended to engage every student enrolled at our school and our plan is centered on continuous growth and expanded opportunities. To further our “inclusive” approach, we will offer twelve STEM/Career Symposiums this year to all interested students within our school day. The first two symposiums were quite successful with Stephen Ritz igniting an interest in Tower Gardens and Dr. John Vasquez, an IBM engineer and inventor showcasing his Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and 3-D printers. Six Tower Gardens and a 3-D printer will be seen in the classrooms. Next semester, we will partner with our high school CTE (ROP) teachers to promote the “Cradle to Career” theme and foster college and career readiness with a focus on STEAM.
We have been fortunate enough to have had enthusiastic support from our superintendent, our board of trustees, our school staff and community partnerships thus far. We have also had the support of Dr. Pam Clute from University of California, Riverside as a speaker at one of our three community STEM Nights. In addition to local fundraising efforts, we received a generous one-time, start-up grant from SIEMENS to launch our program last year. We have had some great initial financial support, however, exponential growth requires a constant push to fund and expand our program.
We believe an interdisciplinary STEM education that offers rigorous, project-based learning is critical in the 21st century. In order to better prepare our students for their future success in STEM careers we must ignite their curiosity, engage their imagination, and develop their ability to solve problems. A “STEM-for-all” mentality will continue to be our guiding theme as we move forward and continue to gain momentum. Whether we are getting a guided tour of a Google Street View mapping vehicle or flying unmanned aerial vehicles with an IBM engineer, every BBMS student will be forming real-world connections to enrich their classroom lessons.