Focus will be on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math

By Dave Conrad

A Hartford elementary school that has overcome some tough challenges will transform into a catalyst for revitalizing its community and a lighthouse for students in STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Located in the Blue Hills neighborhood of Hartford, the Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School was named a Lighthouse School by the state Department of Education. Success in turning around its reading and writing program encouraged the 530-student school to apply for a Lighthouse grant for STEAM.

Under the terms of the grant, the pre-K to 8th grade school will get a full-court press of resources, supports, and arm-in-arm partnerships with community, education, parent, and business organizations to focus on developing students' STEAM knowledge and skills.

What makes the project unique is its extensive network of community- and business-based collaborations.

Through these partnerships: including with CBIA's Education Foundation: and the use of project-based learning strategies, Rawson will open its students to a world of new possibilities.

The project also aims to transform the surrounding community, making the school a center of economic development, neighborhood investments, and local excitement.

From Good to Great

The Lighthouse program enabled Rawson to become the first Hartford non-magnet school to receive funding to improve student achievement under the settlement agreement in the landmark Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation case.

"The idea," says the Hartford Courant, "is to make a good school great: improve a neighborhood school to the point where it is attractive to suburban parents: then provide other assets to induce them to move to the neighborhood."

Rawson's location: close to the University of Hartford, Village for Families and Children, and all the cultural and business attributes of downtown Hartford: makes it ideal for that kind of development and a variety of creative collaborations.

"We want to develop high-quality, high-performing schools throughout the city that also significantly impact the local community," said Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Ed.D., Hartford's superintendent of schools. "Rawson's resiliency and vision made it a winning candidate for the Lighthouse initiative and a perfect model for what we want to achieve."

Work World

CBIA's Education Foundation was chosen to be managing partner of the initiative based on its experience in bridging the classroom with the workplace and its success at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AoEGT) at Hartford Public High School.

"This is a great opportunity to start engaging students early, not only in STEAM skills but also in how those skills are put to use in the real world," says Judy Resnick, executive director of the Education Foundation.

Starting in pre-K, Rawson students will be introduced to STEAM industries and careers in the Greater Hartford area. Resnick envisions CBIA member companies participating in such activities as professionals-in-residence programs, along with job shadowing, classroom speaking engagements, and in-school lessons.

"With strong community support, project-based learning, and industry involvement, Rawson's students will get the best of all possible chances to succeed," says Resnick.

Teachers at Work

Since a major focus of the Rawson project will be improving its faculty's math and science capabilities, the Lighthouse project will add two instructional coaches in math and science. Teachers may also get to participate in internships for educators (called externships) at companies to strengthen their skills and awareness of how they apply in the work world. Educators then bring this knowledge back to their classrooms, incorporating real-world examples into the curriculum.

Together with its community, education, and school partners, CBIA is now in the planning stages of the Rawson Lighthouse program and is bringing on a project manager to coordinate it.

Key Lighthouse Partners

Blue Hills Civic Association

Center for Latino Progress

Connecticut Science Center

Connecticut State Department of Education

Hartford Public Schools

Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School

University of Hartford

Dave Conrad is a senior writer at CBIA. He can be reached at dave.conrad@cbia.com.