C3: Cougars, Curriculum, and Camp – Engaging Students with Innovation

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker 

Selena Galbreaith showing off a basic catapult

            The high school cafeteria bustled with approximately thirty students around age five, and the air buzzed with excitement as they sent brightly colored fuzzy pompoms soaring across their tables. The children had just learned how to make catapults as a part of their summer school program. Their teacher, Celena Galbreaith, who also teaches computer science for Ada and is the IT director for the school system, had showed them Angry Birds as an example to get their imaginations engaged, but then patiently explained the basic principles behind a catapult and how they work. For the older students, Galbreaith would go into the more technical details of kinetic and potential energy, but for the youngest students, she simply laid the foundation. This afternoon activity was a part of the Ada City School’s Summer School program; the choices they have made with this program illustrate their commitment to creating the next generation of innovators in our community.

For the second year in a row, Ada City Schools is hosting the “C3: Cougars, Curriculum, and Camp.” C3 is essentially summer school, but more fun, and it is offered for kids in grades pre-k through eighth. This program began last year because they had money provided from the Covid Relief Act for enrichment and enhancement. They wanted a way to get kids excited about being back in school and in-person, while also having a chance to expose the kids to some of the extra-curricular activities that they might not have had a chance to experience. The mornings were focused on core curriculum, but the afternoons were a series of rotating electives to give the children new experiences.

This year, though, the school district made a concerted effort to offer more activities that engage the students in innovative ways of thinking—particularly with STEAM. While most people have heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, STEAM adds an “A” for Arts. This addition might be new to some, but this is the way that Ada City Schools likes to conceptualize it. Because Ada has such robust arts education programs, they find new ways to incorporate art and creative approaches to learning with the concepts of science, technology, engineering, and math.

During the seven-week program, they offered STEAM once a week during the core morning classes. For the afternoon electives, in addition to classes like Spanish, Soccer, Performing Arts, and Leadership, just to name a few, they also rotated the students through Computer Science, Food Chemistry, and STEAM, and the last two full weeks of C3 were conceptualized as a STEAM camp, led by Galbreaith, focusing on things like catapults and algorithms in the first week and robotics in the second.

C3 has the possibility to affect many students in our community and give them the opportunity to transform into future innovators. This year 255 students enrolled in the program before it began. Superintendent of Ada City Schools, Mike Anderson, is passionate about the school’s commitment to supporting these future leaders in technology and innovation. He says:

“STEM education in our Pre-K through 12th grade schools provides the foundation that is required for advancement in the world of innovative and emerging industry opportunities. This is our future. And as school leaders, we have an obligation to provide the type of innovative education programs that can prepare our students to meet the great demand for talent that our global economy requires. Ada City Schools set out to provide an exciting and challenging Summer School Program for all of our students.  We could quickly see that the energizing and hands-on programming that STEM provides was a great way to get students reengaged in in-person learning and to help us provide a response to the lost instructional and extracurricular time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason we put in the hard work to provide this programming is simple.  It was the right thing to do for our kids!”

While the school provided these opportunities to the community in the summer, the commitment to innovation goes year-round.

Thanks to a grant from the Dart Foundation, every Ada district school has a STEM lab. STEAM education is included in all aspects of learning. The kids get so excited when they get to visit their labs because, while they are learning, they are doing so from a hands-on approach. They might be learning science, math, and engineering, but they are also working on reading and cooperation, critical thinking and problem solving. The kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize how much they are learning and at the end of the day they go home feeling like inventors and scientists.

By the time the students get to the high school level, instead of having a dedicated elective for STEM, the students have the opportunity to study Aviation as an applied form of STEM education. Chris Eckler, the Principal of C3 and the District Director of STEAM education, is also the high school aviation teacher. Eckler says about the aviation program, which also applies to his philosophy surrounding STEAM education, “In my mind it is a problem-solving thing. I’m not trying to teach pilots; I am teaching problem solving. I am teaching them to figure out their problems on their own. If I teach these problem-solving skills, then when they leave school they are ready to enter the workforce and they are problem solvers and thinkers.”

Chris Eckler with a lava lamp from daily STEAM activities

            The Ada City School system’s commitment to building and supporting the next generation of innovators is year-round. They are always trying to find more ways to engage their students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers year-round. This form of education builds a critical foundation and the STEAM programs offered by Ada and other school districts bring together the creativity, technical skill, and problem solving abilities needed by those who will go on to create new technologies, lead new companies, and shape the world in the years to come.

Let’s Grow Ada Together