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Full STEAM Ahead! An Interview with STEAM Program Director Phil Verrengia

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What does STEAM Stand For?

STEAM is the acronym for an exciting new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics program that we are pioneering at the High School for next school year. For several years, STEM (without the “A” for art) initiatives have been on the increase in schools throughout the U.S., with the intent of preparing  young people for the growing engineering and technology job market.

How is this any different from a typical math or science program?

Typically, in most high schools, science and mathematics are taught as separate disciplines with little or no connection between them. In a typical STEM program, science and mathematics are integrated through technology – the products and systems that meet human needs, and engineering – the creative process used to design technology.

However, our STEAM Program is uniquely different from STEM programs in other high schools, because it not only integrates science and mathematics, it also incorporates graphic and visual arts. STEAM students will be able to give visual expression to their creative ideas.

Related read: Why it’s STEAM, not STEM

What does this mean for the academic program at ECHS?

Our STEAM Program provides our most gifted math and science students with a program that has the same depth, rigor, and comprehensiveness as our Humanities Program. 

To meet the needs of the more comprehensive STEAM Program, we’ve added courses like Robotics & Microelectronics and Statistics. Our Computer Science offerings have been enhanced as well. We now offer Anatomy and Physiology and Honors Physics. These courses will be available to all ECHS students, not just STEAM students.

What benefits do EC students see from our STEAM program?

We live in a society that is increasingly placing emphasis on technology. Eastern Christian works to prepare its graduates to be servants of Jesus Christ. We want our graduates  to be people of Christian vision and influence in society. Our STEAM Program equips our graduates with the skills they need to contribute meaningfully and responsibly with Christian vision in a tech-savvy society.  

 Eastern Christian also works to nurture the spirits of our students. As individuals created in the image of God, our students have been hard-wired by God with certain attributes like curiosity, inquisitiveness, and a sense of wonder. Our STEAM Program will give students additional opportunities to satisfy these God-given attributes as they explore some aspect of God’s creation that is of particular interest to them.  

To that end, besides their required course load, STEAM students are enrolled in an Integrated STEAM course each year that they are in the program. These Integrated STEAM courses are the heart of the STEAM Program. In these courses, STEAM students are paired with mentors. who assist them in  conducting research in areas that they are deeply interested in and passionate about. The four-year goal for each STEAM student is to complete a research project within his or her area of interest and passion. Partnering with mentors, students can investigate, experiment, and possibly design and create some new idea, product, or technology.  

Who can participate? What is the criteria for admission into the STEAM program?

STEAM is a four-year program. Students need to enter the program as 9th graders who have already taken Algebra I in middle school. There is an application process that students who are interested in the Program can follow.  The application includes a letter of recommendation from a middle school math or science teacher and the principal or dean. Applicants must also submit standardized test scores in math and in science along with a current report card.  

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Is there any connection between STEAM and EC’s already prominent Project Acceleration? Can students participate in both programs?

Project Acceleration is a dual credit program we run in conjunction with Seton Hall University, where high school students can receive both high school and college credits for certain honors-level and advanced-level courses we offer at the High School. We call these advanced and honors-level courses Project Acceleration courses. These Project Acceleration courses will be incorporated in the required sequences of courses that STEAM students will need to take in order to meet their graduation requirements and STEAM requirements. Students can participate in both programs. Some of our STEAM courses are also become Project Acceleration college-credit-bearing courses.   

Anything else? Is there something to this program that our readers might not be thinking about when they explore the STEAM program?

The STEAM Program will be of particular benefit to students wishing to attend research universities or technical institutes. STEAM students will receive academic credit for their Integrated Steam courses, and these credits will be recorded on their transcripts. STEAM students can request letters of recommendation from their mentors, and the research project and its accompanying work portfolio can become part of their college application.

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