Words by Jonathan Hooper

Photography provided by LP Taylor Photography


There has long been confusion regarding the arts. Some misunderstand the integration aspect of STEAM, erroneously believing the student will simply take more music and art classes, and all will be well. Others have ignored the power of the arts, believing for decades that “the arts are nice, but not necessary.” Rather, STEAM is about teaching all other subjects utilizing the arts directly, making all disciplines more engaging and memorable, leading directly to the development of critical and creative thinking skills, rather than the 18th-century regurgitation of facts and figures.

Mambrino Principal Stacie Brown explains: “It is impossible to teach students about science, technology, engineering, or math without the arts component. This could include designing a bridge, applying mathematical patterns in music, or collaborating with a team to design a computer app to meet a specific need. All require creativity and imagination, which is developed and connected to the arts.”

Inquiry-based learning typically begins with a project motivated by a complex question or set of questions. The students investigate, sort out the questions into smaller questions, figure out possible pathways of investigation, use all the resources at their disposal, and find the truth or solution under the guidance of the teacher. The “sage on the stage” has been replaced by “the guide on the side.” Students actively engage in the entire process rather than sit passively listening to facts.

Gone is the checklist of “what to do.” STEAM begins with questions requiring outcomes. These outcomes require critical thinking, creativity, imagination, the organization of ideas, and a process. They must think “outside the box” while working together as a team to solve real-world problems. The goal is to reach clarity, or a solution, then share it with others. This process is repeated daily. It is not WHAT to think, but HOW to think. This is preparation for the future never seen before in education.

How did all this happen at Mambrino Elementary in Granbury?

Jeff Meador, Director of Communications for Granbury ISD has some answers:

“The Granbury ISD School Board initially sought to establish a specialized academic academy at Mambrino, which is a large campus with under-utilized space. Other elementary schools were overcrowded, so it made fiscal and common sense to place the STEAM Academy at Mambrino. Rather than a special “school within a school” the entire campus will be a STEAM academy.”

The school board initially sought to establish some sort of specialized program at Mambrino. Using a parent survey, the desires of the community were clear: 91.5% of surveyed participants wanted an academic magnet school. STEAM was by far the most popular option, over a STEM academy, a Fine Arts academy, a Leadership academy, a Montessori campus, and a Dual Language school. This is an admirable example of the school board listening to the community, and then following through with the needs and desires.

The STEAM Academy at Mambrino will be under the guidance of principal Stacie Brown, assistant principal Denise Mendel, counselor Angie Molinari, and STEAM coordinator Danielle Parsons. Additional teachers have been assigned to Mambrino from across the district, and will include students from all parts of GISD as well as transfer students from outside the district. All current GISD criteria for attendance and discipline will be maintained.

Two special curricula have been implemented, to include Project Lead The Way (PLTW) which involves collaboration with classmates to solve real-world problems. In PLTW, there is no “do it this way, this is right, that is wrong.” PLTW opens the student up to failure, to learn from the failure, and to do it a different way the next time, always keeping in mind of how they might change it to make it even better. EcoRise is the second project-based curriculum. EcoRise will encourage innovation on a global scale, introducing topics such as sustainability, design innovation, and social entrepreneurship. Both curricula will require extensive teacher training, and will use “Education Closet”—a digital hub for arts integration into the curriculum.

STEAM director Danielle Parsons believes that while STEAM focuses on the integration of academic disciplines, it is about so much more. It also strives to create social awareness, teamwork, and relationship building:

“In building on this foundation, all students, faculty, and staff belong to a specific house. This concept allows students to form additional relationships outside of age or homeroom class. Each of the ten houses correlates to a pair of character traits which are celebrated throughout the year. With the emphasis that we all are unique, the key to our success is to use those differences to unlock our strength. We say ‘10 Houses = 1 Family.’”

The research evidence is compelling: integrating the arts into the other disciplines has shown significant improvement in communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership. Students and the future workers will need to be more creative, and will develop understanding required to address the challenges of the present and well into the future.

Facts and dates and names do not change. The War of 1812 has not moved to a different decade. Lincoln remains the president during the Civil War, and three ships from Portugal still arrived on the wrong continent in 1492. But how we utilize those dry, hard facts and figures under STEAM will be approached differently, empowering the students for the future.

Who is ready to go back to school?