Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Biome’s Ecosystem – Addressing Gaps Early in the STEM Career Pipeline

“You can’t achieve what you don’t see.” This sentiment echoed across panelists at a recent St. Louis Chapter Society for Information Management (SIM) STEM Pipeline event. The goal was to engage area educators and business professionals in a discussion on a topic that is gaining momentum, the STEM pipeline gap. The main concern is that within the progression from primary education to college, we are missing opportunities to ignite and foster interest and engagement among students in STEM subjects and ultimately STEM careers.

The STEM Pipeline panelists included: Dr. Victoria Brown-Kennerly, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Webster University; Dr. Dinesh Mirchandani, Department Chair of Management and Information Systems, UMSL; Dr. Robyn Wiens, Principal at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls; and Bill Kent Jr., Founding President and CEO, The Biome School.

Numbers tell the story. The U.S. currently has a deficit of half a million IT professional for jobs that are currently open. As IT integrates into all aspects of business and life, this gap will continue to increase. In addition, 70 million people are retiring in the next decade with only 30 million replacing them. There is no question that the rise of STEM jobs and the lack of qualified applicants to fill these jobs is a growing concern.

The question remains how are we going to inspire students to pursue STEM careers to fill this pipeline?

Panelists cited a number of cracks in the pipeline that often hinder students from entering STEM careers. These range from a lack of opportunities to develop interests in STEM subjects to a lack of STEM subject teachers and mentors to help them visualize themselves in STEM careers. As a result, there are too many missed opportunities between educators and STEM companies to collaborate and create meaningful learning experiences.

On a positive note, panelists agreed that there are a number of ways to create a better pipeline. For example, a 2016 report by the American Educational Research Association revealed that as early as Kindergarten, there is evidence of gender gaps in math achievement.

That’s why at The Biome, we work hard to engage students early and often and enable them to build a strong foundation. As Bill Kent explained, “At The Biome, we literally extend our classrooms beyond our own walls and into the community.”

The Biome’s vision comes to fruition through our experiential off-site micro schools, which utilize existing community assets, like the Saint Louis Zoo, to support authentic learning experiences for all our students. Through our micro schools, students delve deep into topics of interest and learn from experts in the field.

“It is our responsibility to increase our student’s readiness to step into the pipeline. We want to collaborate with experts in STEM fields. We are open, tell us how we need to be ready to partner with you.” Bill emphasized.

The Saint Louis Chapter Society of Information (SIM) brings together IT leaders to share, network, and give back to their communities through the collaboration of local chapters. To learn more visit:

Kristin Williams – Kindergarten Is a Fresh Start

Just like her kindergarten students, Kristin Williams is new this year to The Biome School. A passionate and energetic teacher, her skills include curriculum development, classroom management, lesson planning and development and technology.

Kristin’s educational focus is based on implementing instructional strategies that actively engage students in meaningful learning experiences to ensure development to their fullest potential. Her goal this year is to instill a love of learning in the minds and hearts of her lively and enthusiastic class of five- and six-year-olds and to have every kindergartner reading and doing math at first grade level by the end of the school year.

Her approach to teaching reading is to encourage students to get involved in the story. For example, after reading a book to the children, she challenges them to retell the story in their own words and discuss their feelings, opinions, and attitudes about the conclusion.

She selects children’s stories that have significance. Recent books include Sweet Briar Goes to School about a skunk who is initially rejected by other students for being different but who ultimately uses his own natural resources to save the day; Leola and the Honeybears, an African-American retelling of the classic adventure story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; and Chicken Little, which teaches kids to have courage and make decisions logically without overreacting.

Kristin has a strong background in early childhood education. Prior to coming to The Biome school, Kristin was an early childhood assistant with the Parkway School District and before that she was a Lead Kindergarten teacher for two years with KIPP Victory Academy.

The Biome is her first experience with a STEAM school. She believes that The Biome’s commitment to science, technology, engineering, art, and math is an important advantage for all students in every grade because it helps children to understand, appreciate and apply what they learn to a world that is so interconnected.

Kristin earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Accounting from Missouri Baptist University. After working in the business world she returned to Missouri Baptist University to obtain a Post-Baccalaureate degree with certification in Early Childhood Education.

When she’s not at school or preparing lesson plans, Kristin enjoys working out and spending time with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. But her real passion is baking, especially cupcakes and cheesecake, claiming that her cheesecake rivals the Cheesecake Factory’s best.

Jean Turney – A World-Class Teacher


Jean Turney, second-grade teacher at The Biome School, brings a world of experience to her students, literally. Over the course of her professional career, she has worked in a variety of settings within the United States including the suburbs of Potomac, Maryland, the hill country of West Virginia, and south St. Louis, as well as two summers facilitating community development and leadership trainings in Uganda and three years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize, Central America.

As an educator, Jean has structured, facilitated and assessed innovative, experiential daily classroom learning for over 20 years across disciplines and grade levels spanning elementary through high school. Through all of her experiences, one consistent element has been to integrate meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. She firmly believes the impact is significant not only for the learner but also for the community because authentic, relevant, engaged service can guide people toward a deeper consciousness of how social justice can promote the common good.

Jean is excited about being part of the Biome School because of the spirit of compassion that exists here. She not only believes in the mission of the Biome, she believes that the energy and commitment of her fellow teachers and administrators will equip every student with the tools and skills to face the challenges ahead of them with intelligence and courage.

In her second grade classroom, Jean is committed to creating a place where her students know they BELONG. A place where they are safe, have some power and can make mistakes and not risk their dignity. She wants them to know they are capable of learning and growing. She wants to enable them to experience that excitement about learning in this classroom, as well as in the community. And she wants them to know that she has high expectations and will never give up on them.

One example of a recent classroom project was teaching students about the August 21st eclipse. Learning included integrating science, math, and literature. Students learned about shadows, did experiments, and read the book Bear Shadow by Frank Asch and poems by Shel Silverstein. Resources from Bill Nye, NASA website, and the school library were also utilized.

During the event, students documented their observations, wrote sentence strips about their observations, and later organized, edited and revised their writing. The lesson plan allowed students to move through the process at their own pace. While some finished right away and moved on to the next project, others required more time.

Jean believes that giving students the time they need to complete a project can help develop their persistence and enable them to have the opportunity of experiences the sense of completion and the pride in their accomplishment. According to Jean, one’s sense of self-esteem is strengthened by genuine accomplishment, not empty praise. She brings this philosophy to life every day in her classroom.

Retirement was short lived for Dr. Pamela Retzlaff. Just a year into being retired, she was doing some consulting work when she ran into a Biome School board member who told her about the school, its mission and an opportunity for a new principal. A short time later, Dr. Retzlaff drove by the school to check it out and her retirement was history.

As she learned more, Dr. Retzlaff was convinced that The Biome School was a place where students, teachers, parents, administrators, and others could come together and have a positive impact on a quality education. Today she knows her instincts were correct.

Dr. Retzlaff joined the Biome School as principal at the end of January 2017, bringing with her 36 years of experience in private and public schools, including 18 years with the Webster Groves School District and seven years with Kirkwood School District. One of the things she observed from her first interview was the close relationship that existed between everyone involved with the school.

As principal, Dr. Retzlaff is the instructional leader for the school and responsible for providing whatever is necessary to enable children to learn. In reality, this means she not only makes sure that children have access to the right educational resources for learning and teachers have the best opportunities for professional development, she also makes sure that the school building is clean and well-maintained and that there is ongoing and open communications with parents, the school community and other stakeholders.

True to the school’s mission of creating out of classroom learning experiences for students, Dr. Retzlaff has arranged a variety of opportunities for students. Examples include regular visits to the nearby branch of St. Louis Public Library, field trips to the Link Auditorium in the CWE to listen to storyteller extraordinaire, Bobby Norfolk, and an on-site study program in collaboration with the St. Louis Zoo, as well as in-school visits by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and other organizations.

As Dr. Retzlaff explains, there isn’t anything she won’t do for the school, whether it’s helping to setup and supervise lunch time or calling a meeting with staff to discuss how to minimize the amount of mud on the shoes of children that comes into the building from the playground, requiring a disproportionate amount of time and energy to clean up. She also has initiated literacy mornings for parents to spend a half-hour reading to their children before school and parent workshops to support children’s learning.

She particularly enjoys being around the children. Just recently, she had an impromptu discussion with a group of first graders that focused on how her earrings, necklace, and hairstyle reminded the students of their grandmothers. Dr. Retzlaff turned the discussion into a teachable moment by explaining how people of similar ages often seem to dress the same and like the same kinds of music, regardless of where they live or what kind of work they do.

With a background in the arts, Dr. Retzlaff’s educational philosophy is aligned with the school’s STEAM curriculum in terms of believing in a team approach to problem-solving. In addition to earning a Doctor of Educational Administration degree from St. Louis University and Master of Science in Education, degree in Supervision and Administration from Bank Street College, Parsons School of Design in New York, NY, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art with a minor in Education from Cardinal Stritch University, Fox Point, WI. She is certified by the state of Missouri as a superintendent, principal for K-8, and art educator.

In her spare time, Dr. Retzlaff hardly takes it easy. Instead, she enjoys being a spinning instructor at the Kirkwood and Brentwood YMCA and Webster Groves Recreation Center, as well as lifting weights and being a Les Mills BodyPump™ coach. She also has a passion for gardening and spending time with her grandchildren.

While there are many reasons why Dr. Retzlaff is thrilled to be principal of the Biome School, one of the things she enjoys the most is being part of a close-knit family of students, teachers, staff and administrators. Compared to the large public school districts she came from, the small, intimate Biome School community is a refreshing change of pace where everyone cares about one another and everyone is focused on the same dream and vision for every student in the school.