CASEE, an alternative learning program for high school students in the Battle Ground Public Schools district, is one of five schools and one district that have been named STEM Lighthouse schools this year in the state of Washington, and is the only recipient in Southwest Washington. The schools have been chosen to serve as STEM mentors and each awarded $20,000 grants to promote and develop STEM education, including technical assistance and advice for other elementary, middle and high schools that are creating STEM programs.
CASEE staff and students received the designation on Tuesday during an award ceremony at the CASEE campus in Brush Prairie. Clarence Dancer, the STEM program supervisor for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that during a visit to CASEE he saw a learning environment rich in student engagement, enthusiasm and opportunity at CASEE that he would like to see at all STEM programs in the state.
Students also shared their learning experiences during the presentation. Standing in front of photographs of smiling students wading in research ponds, looking through microscopes and helping primary students explore the CASEE grounds during field trips to the center, the CASEE students talked about the land laboratory where they are immersed in a curriculum of real-world science application.
Since 1993, the program has afforded students the opportunity to participate in hands-on projects in small teams on an 80-acre outdoor campus. "Smaller communities and teams mean that each member gets to learn more about each other and themselves," said Alan Armstrong, a freshman at CASEE. "Projects are never only about achieving a common goal, but coming closer together as a family in a home away from home."
High school students attend CASEE for a half day and take core and Career and Technical Education courses in biology, environmental science, forestry and wildlife, chemistry, microbiology, industrial biotechnology, food science and English; the other half of the day is spent at either Prairie or Battle Ground high school taking other required classes and electives. CASEE works with partners in the areas that it teaches to ensure that its curriculum is relevant to data collection and work happening in the field. The partnerships also allow students to engage with scientists and conduct relevant research on the program's 80-acre campus and in the region. "CASEE has allowed me to dive deeper into a possible career in science while also giving me an amazing community of people," said McKenna Haney, a sophomore.
"The programs that CASEE has developed for students in Battle Ground and Brush Prairie are exactly what I wish would have been available when I was in high school," said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. "The outdoor 'lab' and hands-on approach would have really appealed to a science geek like me. This grant will go a long way toward helping teachers and community partners engage more kids in these science-based fields."
STEM Lighthouse schools began in 2010 with the state Legislature's passage of House Bill 2621 directing the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to designate lighthouse schools to serve as resources and examples of combining best practices in small, highly personalized learning communities; an interdisciplinary curriculum with a focus on STEM, delivered through project-based learning; and partnerships with businesses and community to connect learning beyond the classroom.
Since 2011, 32 schools and four districts have been named STEM Lighthouse Schools by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.