ANTIOCH -- Antioch school district officials are exploring turning Black Diamond Middle into a K-8 campus that focuses on a so-called STEAM concept that combines a math and science curriculum with the arts.

STEAM is an educational concept that emphasizes hands-on, real-world experience and open-ended problem solving, with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while adding music and the arts. The goal is to engage students by sparking their interest.

District officials pitched the idea at a recent school board meeting and since then have been talking to teachers and parents about their interest level. A community forum to discuss the STEAM concept and whether it could be a good fit is scheduled at the school Wednesday evening.

"We want to provide an informational session so the community has a deeper understanding of the program as a whole," said Mike Santos, a district director of program improvement.

The possible shift comes as a result of a report looking at ways to address concerns from Black Diamond parents, teachers and classified employees earlier this year about a lack of discipline and low morale.

Longtime educator John Bernard crafted a report in January after gauging the school's pulse and came up with some recommendations.

The school community has been working hard over the past three months to address the issues, Santos said.


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Meanwhile, administrators and stakeholders "looked at what would be the most dramatic reform we could possibly do," Superintendent Donald Gill told trustees at a board meeting in early April. A STEAM curriculum could bring more opportunities for children, keep them engaged in rigorous learning and help prepare them for 21st century careers, Santos said. It also could open doors for underrepresented student groups, he said.

Hilary Dito, STEAM coordinator with the Contra Costa Office of Education, said several elementary and middle schools have woven together various components of sciences and the arts, but none has a full-fledged STEAM program.

Antioch officials suggested changing the school to K-8 so that students have early exposure to the sciences and can maintain their interest level. It would provide continuity, Gill said.

Research shows that if students are engaged in math and the sciences at an early age, they tend to pursue those types of careers, Dito said.

"It's a type of learning students can enjoy and keeps them wanting to continue to learn," she said.

Some of the best school systems around the world use the arts to boost creativity and get students thinking about design and innovation, Gill said.

"Innovation is the engine that drives an economy," he said. "It's that innovation that business leaders are looking for in our students who would become more proficient in science and math but use the arts to drive the creativity process."

Santos said the concept could be tied into expanding Antioch's work with Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization that helps school districts around the country implement K-12 STEM programs. It has helped Antioch start several career-themed programs, including engineering at Antioch High and biomedical at Deer Valley High.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

IF YOU GO:
What: Black Diamond Middle School informational meeting
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: School cafeteria, 4730 Sterling Hill Drive.
More information: Contact Mike Santos at 925-779-7500.