Dr. Therese Ellender is the STEAM Supervisor/CTE Lead at St. Landry Parish School District. St. Landry Parish, located in southwest Louisiana, is home to roughly 85,000 people. The St. Landry Parish Public School District includes 36 schools, which serves over 14,000 students.
After offering PLTW in middle school and high school for 11 years, St. Landry Parish Schools (SLPSD) in Louisiana seized the opportunity to add the unique hands-on PLTW Launch program to all 20 of their elementary schools this year. This massive, fast-turn undertaking completes their STEM-education pathway from PreK-12 and was made possible, in part, due to American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds.
“St. Landry Parish is a very rural and socioeconomically disadvantaged district,” Therese Ellender, Ed.D., STEAM supervisor said. “It is full of amazing and resilient people. More exposure to possibilities makes a difference for everyone.”
This opportunity provides STEM education experiences for students as young as PreK, allowing them to work through challenges and solve problems that they see in the world around them. This helps students develop an early interest in fields like computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, and gives them the opportunity to use their skills and interests throughout their educational journey. The district wouldn’t have been able to offer this opportunity to the younger grades without ARP funds.
To help school districts pursuing ARP funding, Louisiana developed guidance called Achieve! Achieve! challenges school systems to use this opportunity to address learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the school day, as well as part of summer learning and after-school enrichment programs. This also provides evidence-based activities that meet the comprehensive needs of students. PLTW programs are a prime example of how schools in Louisiana have improved student engagement in these uncertain times.
“By introducing students to hands-on STEM curriculum and activities at an early age, it is my thought that they will ask for this as they head into middle and high school,” Therese explained. Because of its rural geography and economic make up, many of the districts’ students, without PLTW’s embedded career connections, may not otherwise know about careers in STEM or how they can become STEM professionals in the future. “Students are learning about the possibilities of amazing careers at an early age and having fun while doing it,” Therese said.
“PLTW Launch is an interactive and hands-on program that allows students to learn STEM while having fun,” Therese said. That engagement is especially important now as students everywhere make up for learning lost to the pandemic. “Students can acquire the math and language skills they need to get back on track while doing something fun and exciting with the hands-on project-based learning with [PLTW] Launch.”
After seeing the success of the PLTW programs at the higher-grade levels, Therese said, “It was a no-brainer to add it to the elementary.”
Since PLTW aligns to current Louisiana state standards, the district has been able to use the modules to reinforce their science curriculum.
The district received their ARP funding notification in March 2021 and set to work immediately to ensure implementation for the 2021-22 school year. They participated in a PLTW District Transformation Training in August to ensure teachers received the training they needed to feel prepared to bring PLTW Launch to their classrooms. With this quick path from concept to classroom, the teachers are excited to kick off the program this year.
Therese shared the value of the support she received while getting 20 schools ready to offer PLTW Launch. “PLTW has an amazing support team, and specifically [PLTW Director of School Success] Mary Arrasmith worked tirelessly to help me get everything going,” Therese said.
With this large, ARP-funded expansion of PLTW Launch, SLPSD can provide transformative learning experiences to more than 5,000 additional students this year, preparing them to succeed through middle school, high school, and beyond.