Cypress Trails Elementary School in Royal Palm Beach conducted a tour for students and parents who are considering applying for the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum at the school on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
Principal Shari Bremekamp said she helped to introduce the comprehensive program — along with the faculty and staff — last year.
Bremekamp said there are approximately 40 students, out of a total 500 students, who are enrolled in the choice program from outside the geographic boundary footprint of Cypress Trails.
Since it’s only the second year the STEM curriculum is in place, she expects the number of choice students to increase over time.
“I love this curriculum, and I am so proud that we were chosen to be a pilot school,” Bremekamp said.
The program is more than just making classes in the academic disciplines available, but rather a cross-curricular integration where every aspect of the students’ learning experience is connected to all the others.
One example is that one grade level has a reading program focused on the anatomy of the human body, and they are also studying the anatomy of the human body on Z Space 3D computer software in the interactive science/math lab.
Cypress Trails has 10 of the computers that can support the Z Space 3D software, which is the same number as at nearby Crestwood Middle School. This helps to add to the kindergarten through grade 12 continuum that district and school administrators say is so important.
Bremekamp said Crestwood has also opened up its TV production equipment and instructors, as well as the multimedia, music and communications, pre-engineering and pre-business and information technology programs to the students at Cypress Trails.
“We live and breathe this curriculum every day,” she added.
In the music class, the students are learning how the science of sound — or acoustics — allows something as simple as a taut string to become a musical instrument.
In another class, Susan Monticello, a STEM coordinator and fourth-grade team leader, works with models and weights in water to help the students better under stand gravity, mass and buoyancy.
“I love her,” Bremekamp said of Monticello. “She gets everybody rocking and rolling because she isn’t afraid to get in there and do it,”
The interactive science/math lab also has a 3D printer where information technology staff member Dominick Barnes is teaching students to work with the computer hardware and software that makes 3D printing possible.
There is also a Polycom media conferencing system that allows Cypress Trails to partner with other schools across the county, state, country and world.
Bremekamp has brought in a personalized video-game-building learning tool called Bloxels, as well.
The lab was created and is maintained through grants from foundations or gifts from private donors, Bremekamp said. She added that they’ve received $33,000 in monetary support so far, and are hoping to get another $10,000 donation soon.
STEM at Cypress Trails is about more than just computers. There is a heavy focus and emphasis on environmental science, which Bremekamp said is very important to everyone in Palm Beach County and across Florida.
There are plenty of native plants in the various gardens throughout the campus. The real gem is the nature trail for walking that encompasses the entire property on one side. Bremekamp said it not only serves as a living biological and environmental laboratory, but is a great place to have students walk out any excessive energy and disruptive classroom behavior.
A hidden aspect of the STEM curriculum is to teach the students about how to work in teams.
“Corporations have continually said they can’t teach employees how to collaborate and work in teams,” Bremekamp explained. “Social media is isolating and can inhibit a student’s social development because it’s too much one-on-one. A lot of what we do is project-oriented.”
The school has a number of after-school programs, field trips and extracurricular clubs, including a science and engineering club called SECME.
“The majority of the members in the SECME club are girls,” Assistant Principal Lauren Hall said.
Supporting and encouraging girls who are interested in STEM fields is a priority for the administration, faculty and staff at Cypress Trails, she added.
A very unique aspect of the Cypress Hills STEM curriculum is the relationship with the school’s business partner, Lion Country Safari. The curriculum is literature-based, and students utilize what they have learned by designing zoos, “poacher traps” and enrichment toys for the safari animals.
Cypress Trails Elementary School is located at 133 Park Road North in Royal Palm Beach. For more information about the STEM choice program, call (561) 904-9000.
The application deadlines for students to apply to academies and specialized programs within the School District of Palm Beach County are quickly approaching. For more information, visit www.palmbeachschools.org/choiceprograms.