MEMBERS OF THE school board’s Teaching and Learning Committee voted unanimously last week to recommend launching a pilot STEAM program at Beech Street Elementary School this fall.

Paul Feely's City Hall

Since the summer of 2014, Manchester High School West has been the site of the development of STEAM Ahead NH. The idea came from local business owners Jeremy Hitchcock of Minim and Nick Soggu of SilverTech, both graduates of Manchester schools, who were inspired to support the creation of a program focused on the STEM fields.

The two worked with former mayor Ted Gatsas, who suggested including the arts to include the creative thinking aspect often missing in STEM initiatives — traditionally geared toward science, technology, engineering and math.

A 2017 study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire showed students who participate in Manchester’s STEAM Ahead program have higher grade-point averages than students in traditional learning environments.

According to school administrators, the Beech Street pilot program is being proposed to “increase student engagement, and emphasize problem solving, discovery and exploratory learning,” according to a proposal discussed at last week’s committee meeting.

“We’re looking at the 5E model — engaging, exploring, explaining, elaborating and evaluating,” said Sherri Nichols, executive director of Teaching and Learning for the Manchester School District.

Officials proposed using an upcoming health teacher vacancy to hire a certified elementary teacher to incorporate and develop a STEAM approach that integrates health topics and career explorations within learning activities.

“This teacher would have the benefit of collaborating with classroom and literacy coaches to prepare the science lessons so that they complement the learning in Amplify and Ready Math (programs),” officials wrote in a memo to committee members.

“It has been very hard for us to find health teachers that are certified to teach just mainly health,” Nichols said. “We can incorporate the health aspects of science into this experiential, explorative program, so we would still be hitting all those pieces.”

Katrina Esparza, principal at Beech Street Elementary, said the school doesn’t have a set block for science but does have a health block.

“Our students are receiving some health but they’re not excited by it, because it’s not a hands-on project for them,” she said.

Esparza said the school is using the Mystery Science program, which offers open-and-go lessons that inspire kids to love science.

“We pulled out some of the labs that were based in health to see if it brought any more interest with the students, and it absolutely did,” Esparza said. “They were super excited by it. Science is great, but science doesn’t mean as much to the kids if they have to watch it. It’s much more exciting if you get to experience it. It caught on so quickly with all of our grades.”

Esparza said one of the goals of the pilot program is to give every student a science lab once a week.

“I’m very excited about this proposal,” said Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen. “I’m supporting this 100% as a pilot to see if this is a way we need to move forward as a district to build our science competency.”

Officials said they will evaluate the Beech Street pilot program’s results and decide whether to introduce the elective at other elementary schools.

The proposal now heads to the full school board for a vote.

“STEAM ahead,” said Ward 6 board member Dan Bergeron.

Mayor’s budget proposal

Mayor Joyce Craig’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal unveiled last week reinstates all public works seasonal employees, meaning the city will have staff to open pools, maintain the Derryfield golf course, run Fun in the Sun and continue to maintain local parks and cemeteries.

“In a year where residents spent more time enjoying our local green spaces, trails and parks, this budget allocates funds to expand those public spaces and quality of life amenities,” Craig said in her budget address.

The proposal includes bonding the construction of the Canal Street Park and History Walk, beginning on the corner of Canal and Granite streets. It also includes the expansion of the Riverwalk and Heritage Trail, repairs to Livingston Pool, and playground replacement at Simpson, Enright and Pine Island parks.

The budget includes $500,000 for deferred maintenance at Valley Cemetery, the first time in decades the city has invested funds there.

The budget designates $4.7 million in bonding for Capital Improvement Projects previously approved by the school board. Those include:

• $575,000 to purchase five school buses;

• $3 million for deferred maintenance projects in schools;

• $250,000 for deferred maintenance projects on school grounds and athletic fields, including retaining walls, basketball courts and hoops, and bleachers;

• $500,000 for school parking lot improvements;

• $150,000 for new landscaping and irrigation;

• and $300,000 for playground replacements.

Craig said that while her proposed budget addresses many things, she acknowledged shortfalls.

She said her proposal does not include funding for expiring collective bargaining agreements, summer concerts or membership to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

“It also does not allocate funds to reinstate an Office of Economic Development, a vital resource for our community and something the largest city in the state should have,” she said.

Craig’s budget proposal funds health insurance at the current level, adds a little more than $100,000 for contingencies and allocates $935,000 to severance.

Per the city charter, Craig allocated one-third of the anticipated year end surplus to the city’s severance reserve and one-third to the rainy day fund and applied one-third to the tax rate.

“As a result of the state’s downshifting of pension costs, I’m unable to adequately fund severance,” Craig said. “In order to adequately fund the severance reserve, I encourage the aldermen to vote, as they’ve done in the past, to allocate two-thirds of surplus to severance and one-third to the tax rate.”

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.

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