Author Archives: Bill Kent

Planting STEM Talent Today for the Benefit of Tomorrow

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

The time to plant a seed is now. Slalom sees the importance of planting seeds in their community early and often. We continue to hear research highlighting the growing gap of STEM talent. We see the number of unfilled positions continue to grow year after year. In 2010, just 5.4 STEM jobs were posted online for every one unemployed STEM worker. In 2016, STEM employers faced a dire picture: 13 STEM jobs were posted online for each unemployed worker—or roughly 3 million more jobs than the number of available, trained professionals who could potentially fill them (New American Economy Research Fund, 2016). David Harrow, Community Engagement Lead at Slalom, emphasized we need to start investing at the elementary school level, “The [STEM] gap is so large that we can’t just focus on the next 3-5 years. Rather, we need to focus on the next 10-15 years. Not doing so would be short-sighted.”

From the first time Slalom visited The BiOME, they saw a different approach: every student was engaged. David enthusiastically explained that “The students weren’t just learning math, but they were learning a project-based approach. It allowed every student learn in their own way.” For many who tour The BiOME, it is this rigorous, hands-on approach that they find refreshing. Many are inspired to see just how willing and excited students are to learn. Stefanie Thelen, General Manager of Slalom St. Louis, was so inspired by the BiOME school and its ability to engage, build curiosity and critical thinking skills, she has directed Slalom to be a BiOME school champion.

Since the beginning of the school year, Slalom has taken an active role and become valued members of our school community. From joining us monthly at our Literacy Mornings and reading with our learners, to supporting our annual gala as a Diamond level sponsor, to creating and leading new afterschool programs, Slalom has enthusiastically responded to every opportunity by saying, “yes, count us in!”

Slalom’s community engagement mission is “to help make St. Louis into a city in which every person loves their work and life.” Slalom believes the rising tide raises us all.  This mission fits seamlessly with The BiOME’s approach to education. The future of our community depends on how we prepare our children. Slalom’s support of The BiOME is centered on the belief that in order to create future STEM talent, we need to plant the seeds now.  Educating our children is a shared responsibility between our schools, community, and businesses. We need to partner and widen our lenses as we prepare for the future.

 

Making Reading a Priority in St. Louis

There is no doubt that literacy plays a powerful role in every facet of early education, which is why here at The Biome we cultivate an atmosphere where our learners grow to be readers. Without a strong foundation in literacy, a strong STEAM education is not possible. Therefore, teachers and staff at The Biome focus much of their efforts on making reading a fun, enjoyable skill for each and every one of our children. Cultivating a love of reading is especially crucial in early elementary education. If we can instill the value of reading into our learners, their future opportunities will be boundless.

On Friday, March 2, The Biome celebrated Read Across America Day by taking a school-wide field trip to the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library. During this off-campus excursion, they participated in the nation’s very first Read Aloud Flash Mob with the students at Lafayette Preparatory Academy. What makes your average ordinary field trip to the library a flash mob? When cued, different grades began reading Green Eggs and Ham. During this symphony reading of Dr. Seuss’ famous children’s book, individuals involved with The Biome School held signs displaying different facts about literacy, such as “Literacy begins at home.” The result was a fun and playful chorus of Dr. Seuss rhythm and rhyme. At the end of the day, learners were given their own copies of the book, as well as a library card to further enhance their developing interest in reading.

In Missouri, only 36% of students are proficient in reading (NAEP, 2015). The Literacy Flash Mob not only encouraged our learners here at The Biome to find enjoyment inside the covers of a book but also advocated for the importance of literacy in early childhood.

The effort behind building a strong foundation in literacy is continuously making an impact at The Biome. Recent STAR Reading scores, a research-validated, state-specific assessment, evidenced The Biome’s dedication to improving literacy for every learner. Each grade level, from Kindergarten to third grade, made remarkable improvements in reading. For example, 92% Kindergarteners showed improvement in reading levels, increasing an average of 1.7 levels since the beginning of the school year. Further, 82% first graders having shown improvement in reading levels, 97% second graders, and 100% third graders.

These accomplishments are extremely exciting for all of us here at The Biome to see, but of course, none of this would be made possible without our families who are dedicated to their children’s education. Not only do these scores indicate an impressive improvement in reading capabilities amongst our learners, but they also show the profound impact that a safe and creative learning environment can have on a child’s aptitude for reading.

Together, we can make an impact in early literacy. Today, you can make a difference by sharing the first ever Literacy Flash Mob video with your network and raise awareness on the importance of literacy in our region. See and share the video: here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVIbODW0azM

 

Solving One Math Problem at a Time

Making a Difference By Solving One Math Problem at a Time

Each year, Tim Houghton, Biome School Board Member, continues to be inspired by The Biome and how it has continued to evolve. Tim explains, “We’re putting roots in the ground, we’re developing a culture – one of respect, where everyone matters. Together we’re striving to achieve as a team. Many people are starting to call it “The Biome Way”.” Tim Houghton became involved with The Biome before the school even opened. Knowing Tim’s rich background and passion for STEAM, board chair, Jim O’Donnell asked Tim to join the school board.
 

 

Throughout the last 3 years, Tim has witnessed the immense effort that it takes to open a school. In his role as a board member, he is heavily involved in the administrative and financial functions of The Biome. Removed from the day to day, Tim missed having the opportunity to witness the daily growth taking place each day in the classroom. This desire spurred Tim to begin tutoring third-grade learners every week after school. These lucky third graders look forward to their weekly one-on-one time with Mr. Houghton – who somehow always has a lunch box full of treats to accompany their afternoon of math practice.

 

For Tim, making an impact can take place at any level – from his role on the board to the impact he can make in the lives of just a few of our third-grade learners. Tim shared, “I’m continually impressed by the students. They’re very observant. They are really quick to size you up. They’re constantly watching and learning. This has shown me that my words really matter and I want to be a good role model for them.”

This isn’t the first time that Tim has offered his time to help young people learn and grow. Throughout his life, Tim has valued the opportunity to mentor young people. Years ago, he began mentoring two young boys all the way from fifth grade to their college graduation. Now, he calls these young men and their families his friends. He hopes he is beginning this journey once again with the third-grade learners he is tutoring.

Prior to becoming involved with The Biome, Tim did not have a deep knowledge about charter schools. Today, Tim firmly believes charter schools are vital in the city. He shared, “Charter schools are important because they give parents choice.” Further, Tim emphasized that charters have greater flexibility to meet the needs of their students and he is seeing this take place at The Biome. Every day, everyone is working together to ensure the success of every student.

It is individuals like Tim who help our school community grow stronger. Every day, our school community grows when an individual says yes I want to be an active part of helping to build our next generation. For Tim, every time he comes to The Biome, he is inspired, because he sees classrooms full of our future scientists and engineers. He is confident that our region’s future STEAM talent will credit The Biome as the place where they first got their start.

The 2018 Gala & Auction: Creating “Boundless” Educational Opportunities

The Biome School Annual Gala and Auction is right around the corner – February 17, 2018. This year, the theme of the gala is “Boundless.” At The Biome, we believe learning is boundless. Our annual gala is where we are able to come together and create boundless possibilities for The Biome. No matter your role in The Biome Community, we believe everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this special event.

Damion Jones, Global Director for Diversity and Inclusion at Monsanto, was first introduced to The Biome by his colleague, Deborah Patterson. For Damion, becoming involved with The Biome allowed him to extend his personal passion for STEAM education and building diverse talent in St. Louis beyond his role at Monsanto. Now, as one of our many committed board members, he has taken an active role in helping to spread awareness to why we need to change the way we educate and prepare our future STEAM workforce.

“Today, education is not geared to the way young people learn. Honestly, I think the video game industry is really who has learned the right way to engage kids. They give them problems to solve that are rooted in reality. Kids naturally ask why and where will we use this in life? We need to change the way we educate students and provide them with realistic contexts for learning. The jobs of today do not match rote memorization. Rather, they require students to be active problem solvers,” said Jones.

The active, hands-on approach The Biome takes is what inspires Damion. At the Biome, we encourage learners to ask what, why, and how. Curiosity and inquiry shape learning. For example, every grade participates in Big Question units. Big Questions are interdisciplinary projects derived from state and national standards but are guided by the passions and interests of learners. Learners answer questions such as, “What is a scientist?” or “What is energy?” With a Big Question – there isn’t just one right answer. Damion has witnessed the value of Big Questions and echoes the need for this type of learning, “By leading with inquiry, we’re allowing education to be boundless.”

This year, Damion’s advocacy and support for The Biome have been instrumental. In the 2017-2018 academic year, with Damion’s support, The Biome was proud to be awarded a $40,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund to help sustain and grow our innovative, project-based Adaptive Thinking class. Adaptive Thinking is one of The Biome’s core enrichment classes that teaches children to solve problems creatively. Furthermore, at the 2018 Gala, we will be proud to recognize the Monsanto Fund as a Diamond Level sponsor.

Damion firmly believes St. Louis has a huge opportunity to become recognized as a hub for building the next generation of diverse STEM leaders. “Consider all the infrastructure already in place – the number of STEM companies, plus the many universities – there should be no reason for St. Louis to not be growing diverse talent.” While many companies are making investments solely at a collegiate level, both Damion and the Monsanto Fund see the importance of investing at the elementary level as well. At the collegiate level, it is often too late and the number of students impacted is limited. Today there are gaps in certain STEM disciplines because many people lack awareness of these careers or are not prepared to enter these fields. Instead of waiting until college, it is important to build connections in kindergarten so that students grow up continually broadening their scope of career possibilities.

We invite you to consider how you can help broaden the scope of possibilities for students in St. Louis. To learn more about ways to support the 2018 Gala, visit our webpage. We would love for you to join us at the gala, where boundless possibilities will be created.

The Biome Outdoor Learning Space Featured in The Ladue News

The Biome was proud to be featured in Ladue News on January 4, 2018. The article featured the building of phase one The Biome’s new Outdoor Learning Space which was completed on November 18, 2017. The day was led by volunteers led by the Veiled Prophet Foundation and Royal Vagabonds. Download a copy of the story here. 

AmeriCorps Members Help Pave PATHS of Success for all Learners

Since the beginning of the school year, Biome learners in K-3 have made great strides in both academic and behavior management skills thanks to the extra classroom support provided by a team of seven extraordinary AmeriCorps members. From providing one-on-one tutoring to small group instruction, AmeriCorps teaching assistants embrace the Biome’s commitment to helping every learner achieve his or her potential.

Having AmeriCorps members in classrooms is the result of The Biome School having been chosen last summer to receive a Federal AmeriCorps grant award for the 2017-2018 school year from the Missouri Community Service Commission. In addition to providing daily academic support for the Biome’s STEAM curriculum, AmeriCorps members also participate in PATHS programming, which helps support learner’s social-emotional skills such as self-control, self-esteem and problem-solving.

The positive impact of this additional funding happens every day at The Biome School. For example, one of the AmeriCorps teaching assistants, Ivette Lozano, grew up in California in a low-income environment herself. She understands first-hand the value of early intervention for learners who may be struggling either academically or emotionally. “Just knowing that someone cares and is available to give a learner the extra time and attention he or she needs directly impacts learning success,” said Ivette. “It not only enhances a learner’s self-confidence, it can inspire them to want to achieve more.”

Ivette works primarily with learners in kindergarten and first grade at The Biome. On a typical day, while the classroom teacher may be leading a general writing lesson, Ivette may be working separately with a small group of four learners, helping them improve their reading comprehension or understand how to put their thoughts in writing and use proper sentence structure. Another day, she may work one-on-one with a learner on how to use communication skills to better manage social interactions. “When I hear a learner apologize for accidentally bumping into a classmate, I know I’ve had an impact that may last a lifetime,” said Ivette. She added that joining AmeriCorps at The Biome has inspired her to become a kindergarten teacher instead of an upper elementary teacher.

For kindergarten teacher Kristin Williams, having an AmeriCorps member in the classroom benefits everyone. “At the beginning of the school year, I walked into a classroom of 16 very lively and enthusiastic five- and six-year-olds, including some children who had never attended a preschool and had no experience in a classroom setting. With Ivette’s help, we were able to help our young learners make a faster adjustment by giving them the one-on-one attention they need at that age,” said Kristin.

Today, from reading site words to doing math problems independently, every learner in Kristin’s kindergarten is making tremendous progress. “It is gratifying to see how every day our learners are becoming more independent and self-motivated,” said Kristin, who added that her goal is to have every kindergartner in her classroom reading and doing math at first-grade level by the end of the school year.

Although Kristin and Ivette did not know each other prior to the first day of school last August, they discovered that they not only have similar teaching styles, backgrounds and experiences, they are both former cheerleaders. “We have a good time coming up with cheers and chants that we use as teaching tools to make learning fun and interesting,” said Kristin. “We want the positive experience our learners have in kindergarten to inspire them to achieve success throughout their entire academic future.”

The impact of the AmeriCorps grant cannot be understated. As Bill Kent, The Biome’s founder and CEO, said, “The importance of this additional funding ensures that we are able to provide the rigorous, experiential, and holistic education we are committed to providing for every learner who comes through our doors.”

Mind & Movement: Not the PE Class You Remember

At The Biome, there’s a new twist being placed on gym class. No longer are the days of simple jumping jacks, timed miles, and pushing through as many sit-ups as you can. Today, in Mind and Movement, students explore a wider range of physical learning activities and discover how the mind is connected to physical learning. Through a variety of themed classes, from Tennis Tuesday to Yoga Thursday, learners engage in whole body learning.

Ashreale McDowell, who comes to The Biome with a rich performing arts background, leads Mind and Movement. She received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from Webster University and since then has performed and taught professionally at a number of companies and schools. Currently, she is also a performing artist at Consuming Kinetics Dance Company.

In Mind & Movement, learners are able to take a break from the traditional classroom setting. They are given the freedom to move and to express themselves in new ways. The opportunity to teach and build the Mind & Movement program at The Biome has been an exciting and creative experience for Ms. McDowell. At The Biome, she has the freedom to structure her class in a way that exposes students to a variety of moment, unlike other teaching experiences where she was required following a more regimented program. For example, every week, learners participate in fun, interactive yoga classes. Recent research has shown that yoga and mindfulness improve both physical and mental health in school-age children. Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children. Yoga can also improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children (Wei, 2016). Every week learners also participate in dance classes. Dance allows the learners to practice learning choreography, memorize movements, and improve their memory.

In Mind & Movement, Ms. McDowell also actively incorporates lessons about the human body and health. Ms. McDowell shared, “As learners grow and strengthen their physical bodies, it is also important for them to understand how all their muscles work and are connected to different movements.”

Since the beginning of the year, Ms. McDowell has seen students increasingly step outside of their comfort zones and build their confidence. Often, when something is new, she will hear students say, “I can’t do this. My body can’t do that. I don’t think I’m going to be good.” Yet, in December, at the recent Winter Festival performances, she witnessed the growth of students. The same students who were reluctant at first came out of their shells and proudly performed for an audience of over 100 parents, family, and friends.

At The Biome, we believe in providing students with a holistic educational experience. Mind & Movement is just one more aspect of our educational model that helps students to build important perseverance and self-regulation skills. Rather than with just regular physical education classes, Mind & Movement helps learners to build both healthy bodies and healthy minds.

Embracing a Team Approach for Special Education & Student Support Services

Before students can learn, they must be ready to learn. The reality is that students come to school at different levels and learn in different ways, and it takes support from multiple sources for all students to be able and ready to learn.

At The Biome, we believe in working as a team to support our learners. This allows us to take a holistic approach to understanding what a student needs to be successful. Unique to The Biome is our ability to reach and respond to students quickly and consistently. In many schools the process of accessing services can take up to 90 days. However, due to the many in-school services available and strong external partnerships at The Biome, a referral is often is turned around in as quickly as 30 days. This quick turn-around is critical. Often, without these services, students struggle and are not able and ready to learn successfully in their classroom.

At The Biome, in-school services include speech-language services, special education services, and reading intervention. We also partner with a number of community agencies in order to provided additional needed services such as Miriam which provides occupational therapy, CHADS which provides mentoring and counseling groups, BLASH Associates who provide individual counseling, Healthy Kids Express who provide dental, vision, and hearing screening, UMSL Community Psychological Services who provide assessments, and the Department of Health who provides a nurse in any case of an outbreak of communicable diseases.

While not every learner needs every service, when learners have access to all of these services their ability to learn grows exponentially. For example, in just the past four months, a student who was struggling to learn in the classroom and would likely be on the edge of suspension now benefits from many of our student support services, they no longer are referred for misbehaviors, and they are learning successfully in the classroom. At The Biome, as a team, we are able to quickly assess a child’s needs and open access to any service that we provide.

Our team approach promotes communication and builds trust. Together, in collaboration with parents, the classroom leader, and the learner, we are able to build a plan that best supports the learner. In as early as second grade, learners are invited to their own team meeting. This inclusion typically does not occur until middle or high school in most schools. However, we want learners to be able to have a voice and be able to understand what is going to happen for them.

At The Biome, we know it takes a team. All members of our community are needed to help our students be successful. We invite you to join our team and help our students become ready to learn.

To donate today, visit: www.thebiomeschool.org/support

The Biome: Creating a Community Where Every Member Matters

At The Biome, we call our learners “Builders of the Future.” We believe that the foundation they create at The Biome will help them to become future leaders in our community. To support this development, the Biome surrounds our learners with support and views all children from a holistic perspective.

An important component of holistic learning is the intentional integration of opportunities for social-emotional learning. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children learn to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Ms. Turney, second-grade classroom leader, emphasizes, “SEL is pre-learning. If students aren’t given the opportunity to practice and develop these skills daily, it barricades their learning.”

Social-emotional development is not only important for building a healthy classroom community now, but the impact is far-reaching. Up to 18 years later, students exposed to SEL in school continue to do better than their peers on a number of indicators: positive social behaviors and attitudes, skills such as empathy and teamwork, and academics. SEL participants also demonstrated a 6% increase in high school graduation rates, and an 11% increase in college graduation rates (CASEL, 2017).

At The Biome: Everyone Matters

At The Biome, every member of our community is valued. Each day, learners gather for a morning meeting where they listen and share with one another what is happening in their lives. In Ms. Sullivan’s first grade classroom, learners rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 of how they’re feeling and why. As the school year has progressed, she has seen her learners begin to recognize different faces and body language and understand how those relate to how someone is feeling. Her learners are quickly developing their listening skills and are making stronger connections to one another. These relationships help learners to support one another in the classroom. It isn’t uncommon to see learners stop and pull their classmates aside and remind them to take 3 big deep breaths when they are angry or upset – a skill one would assume only a teacher would employ.

At The Biome: Every Voice Matters

Choice is powerful. As a child, many choices are made for you. However, At The Biome, every day, learners have the opportunity to make choices for themselves, for their classroom, and for what they want to learn. For example, recently in Kindergarten, Mr. D’s students were exploring “What is a Scientist?” for their Big Question Unit. As a class, they voted and decided they wanted to learn more about chemistry. In response, Mr. D. focused their class time on projects that explore different principles of chemistry. When students are heard, they know their thoughts and opinions are respected and valued. This leads to a classroom culture where trust is felt, learners feel comfortable taking risks, and they are further motivated to solve problems, rather than to simply give up after the first try.

At The Biome: Everyone’s Contributions Matter

Teamwork is central to how we learn and grow at The Biome. If we don’t respect one another, we can’t work well with one another. In Ms. Turney’s second grade classroom, problem-solving skills are built on multiple levels. Learners are given real problem-solving scenarios daily just from the maintenance of their classroom – from determining how to keep books organized to deciding how to best remember everyone’s birthday. Projects and group activities teach learners how to break down tasks, take on different team member roles, and learn how to provide each other with constructive feedback. In Ms. Turney’s class, learners also have the opportunity to bring their problems to group meetings where they can get assistance and are able to make a choice on how they will solve a problem individually or together as a whole class.

At The Biome, you can feel the commitment there is to build a strong school community – from classroom leaders to parents, everyone is striving to make a contribution. We invite you to consider what contribution you can make to The Biome School Community:

As 2017 comes to a close, we invite you to support our 2017 Year End Appeal, where your contribution will directly support our holistic learning environment at The Biome by providing needed student support materials and services such as:

  • PATHS Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum – $250 per classroom
  • Occupational Therapy Services – $500 per month
  • Literacy Benchmark and Assessment Tools – $1,000 per grade level
  • Student Mental Health Counseling Sessions – $2,500 for an academic year
  • Classroom Libraries – $5,000 per classroom