Gov. Wolf visits Ferguson K-8 STEAM classes

Alyssa Jackson
  • The governor spent time with kids in Ferguson K-8 as they worked on STEAM projects.
  • The students had the opportunity to take photos with the governor and tell him about their work.
  • York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes said that it's a goal to expand the STEAM program even further, possibly with its own building.

Gov. Tom Wolf spent time with several STEAM classes in York City’s Ferguson K-8 school Wednesday, taking the opportunity to highlight some of the education initiatives he has worked on as governor.

In the York City School District, the STEAM program — which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — is offered only in Ferguson K-8 and only to students in a few grades. Wolf spent time in a number of classes before giving a brief news conference.

Wolf watched as third-graders, such as Ella Delaney, made observations about the worms the class has been growing for science class. He talked with seventh-graders, such as Ashley Manning, about the weekly STEAM challenge given by seventh-grade science teacher Laurel Szoszorek.

In this file photo, Gov. Tom Wolf talks with the media after a tour at York City School District's Ferguson K-8 on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. He was at the school as part of his Schools That Teach tour. Bill Kalina photo
Governor Tom Wolf talks with Ferguson K-8 fourth-graders  including Ashawn Creque during a STEAM class Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes, background, joined the governor. Wolf visited the school as part of his Schools That Teach tour. Bill Kalina photo

This week's challenge was to come up with a creative way to solve a classroom problem and then to create models of those solutions. Ashley, who hopes to become an engineer, talked with Wolf about her invention to help kids who might forget their homework assignments. She came up with an idea to upload homework assignments to a mobile app, helping students keep track of them.

Szoszorek said having the governor come to their classroom really drove home to the students the idea that STEAM is important.

"Any time we do a STEAM  challenge, we hope they're getting real life experience," she said. "With the governor stopping by, we hope they realize how important it is for the future."

In the eighth-grade classroom, Wolf talked with each of the students about their projects before he addressed the class and thanked them for letting him visit.

The kids were happy to have the governor in their midst for the day. After Wolf addressed them, they all lined up at the back of the room to take a group photo with him before he moved on to another classroom. Eighth-grader Dayanna Garibay was excited to have someone so important take an interest in her class and her project.

Wolf ended the day in a sixth-grade STEAM class and a looping classroom, which was doing a classroom experiment to see which bubblegum flavor lasted the longest. Wolf said he was surprised the students were working with dependent and independent variables, something he didn't begin learning until he was in college.

Looping: York City schools try to ease transitions

After visiting the classrooms, Wolf talked about how important STEAM is for students as society moves to a more technologically based future, but he was quick to point out that the A in STEAM stands for arts, another important subject educators shouldn't lose sight of. He said when he went to MIT for college, professors said more engineers needed to learn how to write and do other aspects of the creative process.

Wolf also applauded the school district on its hard work toward financial recovery. For years the district has been working with Chief Recover Officer Carol Saylor on a plan that addresses both financial and educational needs in the district. The governor pointed to his work with the new fair-funding formula that was signed into law this past year and the large increases to education funding as two ways he's helped school districts such as York City.

"I think things are going really well for education in Pennsylvania," Wolf said. "We're on the right track."

Expanding STEAM: Principal Melanie Still said the STEAM program helps get kids up and moving by providing hands-on learning, something the K-8 school was proud to demonstrate for Wolf.

"We're teaching to the whole kid, we don't just stand and deliver," she explained.

Governor Tom Wolf talks with Ferguson K-8 eighth-grader  Ashley Manning during a STEAM class Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. He visited the school as part of his Schools That Teach tour. Bill Kalina photo

District Superintendent Eric Holmes said he was excited to show the governor the work that's being done in the STEAM classrooms because the district would ultimately like to expand the program to all grade levels, including the high school. Ideally, the district hopes to move the STEAM program into its own building at the Edgar Fahs Smith school, which closed several years ago.

Holmes said a proposal for an expansion of the STEAM program will be presented to the school board in the spring. Currently, a committee of 20 to 25 teachers is exploring the expansion and travelling to other STEAM programs to gather ideas.

"We thank the governor for coming today and for his continued support," Holmes said.