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Expanded STEAM opportunities at Cutchogue East prepares young students with skills for 21st century

Four Cutchogue East Elementary School second-graders gather around a table in the STEAM lab. With colored pencils and paper, the group designs a container that’s ideal for carrying potato chips — one that’s insulated and able to withstand heat, rain and other potential damage. 

Then, the students – or, for that day, “packaging engineers” — bring their illustration to life using tape, plastic and aluminum to construct their package. 

The lesson, led by STEAM coordinator Meghan Tepfenhardt, is part of a new district initiative to expand STEAM activities for K-6 students in the new lab.

Next month, Cutchogue East will showcase student work at its first-ever Family STEAM Night, Wednesday, March 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. 

The district is following a new framework of STEAM practices, partially from the National Academy of Sciences. Ms. Tepfenhardt, who has been an elementary school teacher in the district for 18 years, said the instruction focuses on engineering design, science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It has shifted the curriculum to focus on “science and engineering practices,” “disciplinary core ideas” and “cross-cutting concepts.” In the past, Ms. Tepfenhardt said, the standards were content-driven.

“There was a lot of conversation in the beginning about the intention of the program and to really get kids excited about learning and to look at those skill sets that are needed for kids in the 21st century,” she said.

At the March event, elementary school science fair projects will be on display. The projects will be judged by high school AP Environmental students earlier that day, Ms. Tepfenhardt said. 

STEAM stations for children, like pendulum paintings, will be set up throughout the cafeteria. Sixth-graders at the school are encouraged to sign up in advance for live challenges, Ms. Tepfenhardt said. Students won’t know the challenge — or their fellow team members — until they arrive at STEAM Night. 

The BOCES Earth Balloon — a large structure that invites students and families inside to learn about astronomy, climate, habitat, geology and more — will be set up in the gymnasium.

The district is working to further develop the Makerspaces at the high school library and elementary school, Superintendent Jill Gierasch said in a November 2019 interview. 

All STEAM programs in the district are funded through annual budgets, Ms. Gierasch said.