G-A schools are full STEAM ahead with PAsmart Advancing Grant

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Emily Trace and Amy Crider haven’t been able to turn off their brains since learning in late June the Greencastle-Antrim School District is receiving a three-year state grant of nearly half a million dollars for STEM development in local classrooms and the community.

Trace, the district’s K-2 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher, and Crider, the district librarian who has had much responsibility for STEM education, only had a month in late winter to apply for a PAsmart Advancing Grant from the Department of Education for “Building a Rural STEM Ecosystem: Growing Sustainable STEM Capacity in Franklin County and Beyond.”

“We’re teachers, not grant writers,” said Trace. “It was a very short timeline and a very long wait.”

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Trace was with friends in a fancy perfume shop in Florence, Italy, and started to cry after she received a text from Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, with a picture of G-ASD’s name on the list of grant recipients.

G-ASD’s $499,192 award is among nearly $20 million allocated to expand access to STEM education across Pennsylvania.

The Greencastle-Antrim School District’s Emily Trace, left, and Amy Crider are spearheading ‘Building a Rural STEM Ecosystem: Growing Sustainable STEM Capacity in Franklin County and Beyond,’ which received a $499,192 PAsmart Advancing Grant.

“PAsmart prepares students for the jobs of tomorrow, no matter where they live in the commonwealth or where they plan to live in the future,” Acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty, said in the news release announcing the grants. “Equitable access to STEM and computer science programs gives students from all walks of life the skills they need to obtain meaningful, family-sustaining careers, and these grants will provide thousands more learners the opportunity to build on their skillset, grow, and achieve.”

The grant is for STEM education, but that’s more of a formality and the arts — the “A” in STEAM — will be part of the G-A collaboration.

The local grant will include developing a cohesive and equitable K-8 curriculum to align with the high school STEAM program; installing a learning garden behind the primary school; creating a curriculum to be used with a Penn State Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science weather station; finding the best way to tap into and use local resources; holding a STEM expo to connect students with opportunities in the community; training future teachers at Shippensburg University; and providing professional development.

There will be free community outreach for all ages through partnerships with the Franklin County Library System, including Greencastle’s Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library; Franklin County First Start Partnerships; South Central PA Works; and the Chambersburg YMCA.

An additional goal is to create a STEM development plan to be shared with other communities and districts.

“We are simply thrilled to begin the work of designing a comprehensive STEM education program beginning with our youngest learners through to high school,” Hanks said. “We will be working with many partners to build this ‘ecosystem’ for G-A and our greater community.”

How will the STEAM team Avengers come together?

“We are committed to providing our students and community with the very best opportunities and experiences that will prepare them for future success. We continually look for possible paths to meet every need and solve every problem,” Hanks said. “And we are most especially blessed to have passionate educators that can dream big and imagine the possibilities. Amy Crider and Emily Trace had a vision and an unstoppable commitment to our community to bring the magic of STEM experiences to our own campus!”

The grant is for three years and 2022-23 will be devoted to building teams in each school, training teachers, providing materials and getting ready for a second-year rollout.

In the first year, the grant will pay for long-term substitutes for Crider and Trace so they can step outside their roles as teachers to concentrate on the STEM eco-system.

“There’s not a lot of blueprints for this,” Crider said. “To some extent, we have to wait and see how it unfolds.”

There has been a strong STEAM program at G-A High School for a number of years, and STEM teachers were added in the lower grades two years ago. Before that, Crider provided a lot of the instruction, along with individual classroom teachers.

Crider and Trace’s first objective is to develop a fair and cohesive STEAM path across the district.

“We really want to build a base foundation in year one,” Crider said.

“We will be training, coaching and collaborating with all teachers … not just handing them a curriculum,” Trace said. She envisions them coming together like the Avengers to form a superhero STEAM team.

“This isn’t just an Amy and Emily thing. We did this for our district,” Trace said. “We’re eager to pull together and make this happen.”

Materials needed for different grades, such as robots and coding and programming tools, also will be provided.

How can STEM/STEAM grow in the garden and the community?

A large investment is the learning garden, which the educators hope will be finished by the end of the second year. Located behind the primary school, it will trickle into the trails of Tayamentasachta, the school district’s environmental center.

This graphic explains the various facets of the Greencastle-Antrim School District’s ‘Building a Rural STEM Ecosystem: Growing Sustainable STEM Capacity in Franklin County and Beyond.’

The garden will provide a large area for outdoor learning, including STEM projects like growing plants. It can also be a performance space for the arts part of STEAM.

The garden is way to connect with the community, too. Other ways include a STEM/STEAM expo, a shared library of resources and the Penn State weather station.

“We really want kids to see STEAM is everything … how many ways STEM is happening around us,” Crider said. She added it’s not just about people in lab coats, but is part of everything from a milking parlor on the farm to manufacturing.

They’re looking outside the classroom, because kids go home at the end of the day and on vacation in the summer. Training staff at libraries, the Chambersburg YMCA and First Start Partnerships is a way to reach a broader spectrum, from preschoolers to adults.

"Free" is a key word in many of the plans because most STEM opportunities outside of school are expensive, Trace added.

“We can see all these resources and opportunities that exist,” Crider said. “We want to create the blueprint for other people so they know how to connect resources and the community.”

“When you get out in the community, it makes it sustainable beyond the schools,” Trace said.

Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at shardy@gannett.com