West Baton Rouge Now
Located at the intersection of the Mississippi River and Port Allen Canal in Louisiana, West Baton Rouge School District encompasses ten schools. There are three high schools, two middle schools, and five elementary schools that belong to this mid-sized school district.
The district gained a new superintendent, Dr. Chandler Smith, in May of 2023 and is in a period of growth. With growth comes major shifts, learning curves, and assessment. This is true for the district’s STEM programming as well. They are well equipped when it comes to STEM learning, with resources ranging from Spheros, to VR headsets, to green screens, to Woz ED kits filled with drone and robot building materials.
I had the pleasure of speaking with two of the district’s key players in STEM education, Mrs. Stephanie Thompson and Dr. Tammy Seneca. Thompson, West Baton Rouge’s Technology Facilitator, sees STEM as a significant area of growth. It has already been integral in increasing engagement and connecting school with real world experiences.
She comments on how coding has become the mainstream. Students pick it up naturally and everyone knows what it is already. We are at a point in time where certain technologies that were once unexplored have become common knowledge. This is a helpful aspect for students and teachers. It is much easier to build upon foundational knowledge.
Dr. Seneca, the district’s Information Systems and Educational Technology Supervisor, says,
“STEM forces our students to look at the world through a problem-solving lens while having to work in a collaborative setting.”
She, too, is a proponent of weaving STEM concepts into the curriculum in a way that allows creativity, team work, and hands-on learning.
The STEM Rotation
West Baton Rouge uses a hybrid model that combines the “STEM Library” with the specialized STEM teacher approach. All of their STEM materials are kept in one place where general education teachers can borrow them and use them for six to eight weeks at a time. Some schools also have teachers who are trained in Science and Technology and instruct students in areas such as coding, drones, mobile development, and robotics.
Dr. Seneca tells me that STEM has created a broader field of interests for students that are outside the norm. It has allowed students to explore subjects that are new and interesting to them as opposed to feeling limited to traditional subjects. Teachers are also working the Woz ED STEM & Science Kits into their math, reading, art, and history curriculum.
Mrs. Thompson stresses the importance, for her, to look at resources based upon their ability to be weaved into the curriculum. Her role consists of determining which technology programs and resources are going to be the best fit for the district. She expresses her appreciation for Woz ED kits because they are “outlined so well and everything is laid out for you.” It is important that teachers feel confident with new material.
Thompson shares with me a prime example of aligning STEM concepts to other lesson plans at WBR. The students learned how to utilize Spheros software to create coordinate grids through coding. Dr. Seneca also told me about an activity some elementary students participated in recently after reading one of the Harry Potter books. The students played “drone Quidditch.” Here they had a friendly competition, learned how to pilot drones, and built their reading comprehension skills all in one.
The current Superintendent of West Baton Rouge District, Dr. Chandler Smith, has been working hard to improve the district’s Career and Technical Education programs. The district is building a CTE center where students can get hands-on experience in areas like medicine, industry, and technology. This initiative presents an excellent opportunity for the district’s STEM programming team to explore additional resources and coordinate STEM-related activities to better prepare students for future careers.
In this “realignment phase,” as Thompson refers to it, the district is assessing their current STEM programming and resources, getting a feel for where they are at, and determining what they need to catapult them forward. Re-aligning and configuring can be a difficult task, but it can also be an incredibly exciting time. There are so many possibilities to consider. Thompson believes that the district’s next few years will be filled with exponential growth, especially in areas such as STEM and CTE.
Another strong feature of the WBR District is its early childhood education programming. The Pre-K and Kindergarten programs incorporate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) into their daily schedules. Children are acquiring foundational skills that they will build upon throughout their K-12 education. The district is committed to further fortifying their early childhood programs, recognizing the importance of introducing concepts like collaboration, construction, and creativity to students as early as possible.
Everyone’s Got a Reason
When I ask Dr. Tammy Seneca what it takes to make change within the educational space, she tells me,
“Change agents in education have to be patient. That is often hard to do as an educator because we want what is best for our students right now. We can’t be the Veruca Salt of education. We have to be Charlie Bucket. We have to stay true to our mission, be patient, have fidelity, and forward thinking.”
I love the Willy Wonka reference she uses here. It would be much easier if educators could say “I want it now,” and immediately have whatever it is at their fingertips. It doesn’t work like that, as Charlie Buckets eventually learns, good things take time. For Seneca, her patience, hard work, and dedication are put forward with the knowledge that she will contribute to student success down the line. She wants to provide opportunities for students to live their best lives.
Stephanie Thompson, as a prior teacher, understands the difficulties of being a teacher in the current educational climate. Teachers are often overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed. Thompson’s main objective is to provide as much support, training, and resources for the teachers as she can. It makes her day to know that she has made a teacher’s day run smoother.