Author Archives: Galicia Guerrero

New Partnership – Thermo Fisher Scientific

At The Biome School, we value community partnerships that nurture relationships at any level; however, a commitment of time, talents, and treasure is a trifecta for us! For this reason, we are proud to announce the beginning of a new relationship with a company that exemplifies this level of investment.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is the world leader in serving science, with revenues of more than $20 billion and approximately 70,000 employees globally. The company’s mission is to enable its customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. Thermo Fisher helps its customers “accelerate life sciences research, solve complex analytical challenges, improve patient diagnostics, deliver medicines to market and increase laboratory productivity” (corporate.thermofisher.com). Thermo Fisher Scientific developed a presence in the St. Louis region after acquiring Patheon Biologics in 2017, and sees the potential that our region has to offer in the future of scientific research and product development.

Introduced to us by long-time friends of our organization, Stacey Wehe and Paul Jorjorian, Thermo Fisher Scientific representatives recognized that The Biome would be the perfect elementary educational partner for its St. Louis site. Thermo Fisher has a keen focus on contributing to the development of the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) professionals. At The Biome, our focus on immersing children beginning at the age of five in quality STEAM (STEM with the arts integrated) educational experiences resonated with the company’s representatives, and The Biome was invited to become a partner.

The relationship between The Biome and Thermo Fisher Scientific is still in its infancy, but it is off to a fantastic start. On September 21, 2018, Thermo Fisher held a ceremony to celebrate its recent expansion in the St. Louis region. The company has invested $50M

in a 64,000-square-foot expansion to its manufacturing building located in Berkeley, MO and will add 80 new technical jobs in the next year, helping to strengthen our regional economy. The celebratory event was attended by Thermo Fisher executives who traveled from various national and international offices, by Berkeley’s mayor, and by a host of other public officials. The Biome was honored to be invited to participate in the event. In addition to celebrating its expansion, Thermo Fisher wanted to make a statement about its commitment to education, and presented a $5,000 check and 400 science kits to The Biome. Employees from Thermo Fisher volunteered their time to create the science kits, which include professional grade aprons, goggles, and other items to help our children nurture their “STEM identity.”

All children, and especially children from under-resourced backgrounds, need access to quality STEM learning opportunities and resources if they are to be positioned for academic and career success in STEM. African Americans and other minorities are under-represented in STEM fields, which offer more stability, income, and growth than non-STEM careers (U.S. Commerce Department, 2011). According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, Blacks represent only 9% of workers in related STEM fields. This concerns us at The Biome because 22% of the St. Louis workforce is in industries that require STEM experience (Brookings Institution, 2013). Additionally, according to the 2018 State of the St. Louis Workforce Report, 61% of Information Technology employers experience a shortage of skilled applicants. The Biome’s school model addresses these challenges by investing in the future of youth through an interactive, project-based learning environment that facilitates and promotes students’ interest and growth in STEM and STEAM.

While we do not intend to force or usher our learners to careers in STEM, we want them to develop the competencies and interests that will allow them to succeed in these fields should their passions lead them to pursue STEM beyond academic settings.

A part of preparing our learners for success in STEM and beyond is creating opportunities for them to experience STEM in the real world, and partnerships with companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific will allow us to do this. In addition to working with the tools in their specially-made science kits, our learners will have a chance to engage with Thermo Fisher professionals who will volunteer at The Biome for special activities, and our older learners will have an opportunity to visit the Thermo Fisher lab to see first-hand the important work that happens there. The possibilities to inspire are endless!

The Biome has already left its mark on Thermo Fisher Scientific quite literally. At the celebration event, guests were invited to sign in permanent marker one of the steel beams that will be used in the construction of the new building. The Biome’s representative in attendance, Michele Mosley, made sure to write “The Biome” in very large letters, front and center.

We are ecstatic to welcome Thermo Fisher Scientific to our region and into our Biome family, and we look forward to an exciting partnership.

 

Embracing the Diversity of our Classrooms

Embracing the Diversity of our Classrooms

We strive to welcome everyone to The Biome School with open arms. Each year we continue to see our community grow in both numbers and connections within our school. Every time you enter The Biome School you are greeted warmly. Every learner and their family are known by name. We welcome families to come learn with us whenever possible. We strongly believe we all have something that we can learn from one another.

One way we invite families to learn with us is through our monthly literacy mornings. On average there are over 40 families members and volunteers that join us to read with learners in all of our classrooms. Although parents coming in to read may seem like an insignificant task, the impact of this simple action is vast. Research has shown that there is a substantial relationship between parent involvement and reading comprehension. Where parent involvement is low, the classroom mean is 46 points below the national average. Where involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average – a gap of 47 points (NEA, 2000).

In September, we celebrated our first literacy morning of the 2017-2018 school year. A number of families joined us, eager to join their learner’s classroom and share in the experience. In Dr. Walker’s fourth grade classroom, there is a new student whose first language is Spanish and who is having his first U.S. school experience at The Biome. Often during literacy morning, parents have the opportunity to do a group read-aloud of a favorite book. Dr. Walker encouraged our new learner’s mom to read “The Three Little Pigs” in Spanish for the class. Hesitant at first, she was worried that the students wouldn’t understand or get bored. Rather, it was completely the opposite. The learners were enamored, engaged, and excited, as they were able to pick up a Spanish word here or there they had previously learned from their new classmate. Dr. Walker and her learners joined in to try their hand at reading and helped act out scenes from the story of “Los Tres Cerditos”! By the end of the morning, Mom was so grateful to be actively included and welcomed in Dr. Walker’s class.

This welcoming approach is vital as research shows that school climate and school culture also directly impact student success. It is important for school and classroom culture to reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate diversity. We know that diverse classrooms, in which students learn cooperatively alongside those whose perspectives and backgrounds are different from their own, are beneficial to all students because they promote creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills (The Century Foundation, 2017). Further diverse viewpoints and experiences encourage all students to think critically about their own views and to develop greater tolerance.

As we continue to grow as a community, we can’t wait to learn more from our families. We believe everyone’s experience can enhance our community and promote learning for all.

 

Taking Care of our Friends at the Saint Louis Zoo

Taking Care of our Friends at the Saint Louis Zoo

We are thrilled to once again have AmeriCorps Members serving at The Biome School. We have been chosen for the second year in a row to receive a Federal AmeriCorps grant award from the Missouri Community Service Commission. Our AmeriCorps members play a vital role in The Biome School community. They are actively engaged in every classroom, they work to help provide support for individual learners’ needs, and work to create fun projects for the whole school to engage in.

This year our team includes:

  1. Hawo Abud, Kindergarten
  2. Cydney Johnson, Kindergarten
  3. Breanna Redmond, 1st Grade
  4. Olivia Lasala, 1st Grade
  5. Natalie Guard, Returning Member, 2nd Grade
  6. Cole Warner, 2nd Grade
  7. Ryan Keeney, 3rd Grade
  8. Kara Urbanek, Returning Member, 3rd Grade
  9. Ivette Lozano, Returning Member, 4th Grade
  10. Lauren Denney

Our AmeriCorps team has hit the ground running, eager to contribute to the school in many ways. Most recently, the team of 10, joined together to put on a Loose Change Drive as a September 11th service project. Each classroom was given a container to fill with loose change from September 10th until the 14thwith the goal of raising money for the Saint Louis Zoo, one of our school partners. The classroom that raised the most money would be able to choose the animal that the school would “adopt” from the zoo.

As classes raised money, their daily totals were marked on thermometers outside the office. This helped encourage healthy competition between classrooms. The challenge gave learners the opportunity to practice their math skills as they helped count the money and learned about the different coins and amounts. Every class researched the different zoo animals and voted on which one they would choose to adopt. In third grade, during their animal research, many of the learners thought they would actually get an animal to live at The Biome.  In response, each learner wrote a journal entry about what they thought would happen if either one of our animals, a cheetah or black rhino, actually came to live at our school. We can only imagine the creative endings to these stories!

When the week was over, The Biome raised an overwhelming amount of over $800 to donate to the Zoo! Kristin Williams’ kindergarten class raised the most coins with a staggering amount of over $250, yet most classes were not too far behind. The impressive effort from the learners led the AmeriCorps team to rethink the original incentive and decided to let each classroom choose their own animal to “adopt”. Each class will earn recognition on the Zoo’s donor wall, a certificate of adoption, a fact sheet, and a color picture of their individual animal! Ms. Williams’ class will also receive a plush animal and a book about their chosen animal as a special prize for raising the most money.  Each class voted and chose the following:

  • Williams Kindergarten – Golden Lion Tamarin
  • Mitchell Kindergarten – Grevy’s Zebra
  • Sullivan 1st Grade – Great Horned Owl
  • Smith 1st Grade – Cheetah
  • Giacone 2nd Grade – Humboldt Penguin
  • Jordan 2nd Grade – Red Panda
  • Hoffman 3rd Grade – Black Rhinoceros
  • Turney 3rd Grade – Cheetah
  • Walker 4th Grade – Polar Bear

The AmeriCorps team was incredibly grateful to all The Biome families for helping make such a successful loose change drive!

New Year. New Milestones.

Wednesday, August 15th marked the beginning of our fourth school year! Although the day opened with clouds and rain, this did not dampen the excitement of our 182 new Kindergarten through 4th-grade learners. Equipped with eager smiles, learners enthusiastically entered their new classrooms ready for a new year of learning.

At The Biome, we value a diversity of thought, background, experience, and culture. We believe that diversity enriches our community and further extends learning opportunities for our entire school. This year, we are proud to highlight our growing diversity in both our learners and our staff.

 

This year our learners come from over 40 St. Louis City neighborhoods, further creating a diverse student population. On average, our teaching staff possesses 14 years of teaching experience. Collectively, they hold 33 degrees, 14 advanced degrees, and over 30 certifications. In addition, to our teaching staff, we are proud to once again be awarded a state AmeriCorps Program grant, which allows us to host 10 AmeriCorps members this school year. Our AmeriCorps members play an integral role in our school by providing support as classroom assistants and leaders in our extended day programs.

New milestones we will look forward to this year include:

  • Installation of our new modular building which will greatly expand our classroom space
  • Installation of a new greenhouse
  • Participating in the third year of our zoo school partnership
  • The second year of implementation of our comprehensive literacy program
  • Implementation of a new Envisions math program
  • Introduction of a new music program and new Biome Benefit Concert (April 13, 2019)

We invite you to get meet our community and get involved. School tours begin September 17th. Schedule your tour today and explore The Biome School as we continue to learn and grow this year!

Creating a Team of Allies for our Learners

Creating a Team of Allies for our Learners

New to The Biome School this year is Megan Jones, our Student Support Services and Special Education Coordinator. Ms. Jones finds her arrival at The Biome serendipitous. She has worked in a variety of educational settings from Edgewood Residential Facility to Special School District. Throughout her journey, she has sought out environments that fostered a team-focused approach to supporting students. Ms. Jones emphasized, “Collaboration is crucial. I’m excited for the all of the possibilities that come with growing our support services at The Biome because here it is understood that a dynamic team approach can have an incredible impact on a student.”

Following closely in her mother’s footsteps, also as Special Education teacher, Ms. Jones, completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Truman State and Master’s degree in Autism Studies at Fontbonne University. As she pursued her education, she found herself easily empathizing with her students and their emotional struggles. Quickly she found she had an innate passion to connect with her students. She explained, “I carry my kids in my heart. When they have a bad day, I feel it with them. When I see them have a breakthrough, I am there with them too.” This led her to develop a strong conviction that all kids need to have allies they can rely on throughout their lives.

Since day one, Ms. Jones has been inspired by the energy and enthusiasm everyone brings to The Biome. Drawing on her own creativity and experience, she has jumped in passionately, bringing in a variety of new tools and supports for all of our teachers and learners. For every classroom, she has created sensory bins creating greater accessibility to the tools that help learners build their self-regulation and mindfulness skills. Further, she has introduced “Zones of Regulation” for every classroom. The “Zones of Regulation” represent a series of emotion and help learners to identify their emotions and utilize different coping strategies. Ms. Jones explains, “These tools are integral. It is hard to be successful in education if you do not develop positive self-regulation skills.”

Ms. Jones is excited by the extended flexibility and freedom we have to do what is best for each and every student. The Biome’s academic model is student-centered and focused on figuring out what works best for each student. This model allows for the fluid integration of student support services for every student and creating allies for our learners at every corner of our school. Together, our teachers, parents, and our student support services team work together to create a plan for success, encouraging each perspective to be heard and utilized. Through our student support team, we are proud to be able to provide an extensive array of services, including counseling, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, and special education support.

In her new role, Ms. Jones is looking forward to melding her expertise of working individually with students with the many opportunities to help integrate student support services throughout the school, empowering our entire team to be the allies our learners can rely on.

 

 

Creating Lifelong Learners

Introducing Dr. Walker: Creating Lifelong Learners

Dr. Virginia Walker joins The Biome School at an important time – the addition of 4th grade! She brings with her more than 35 years of experience in the classroom. Dr. Walker prides herself on creating a classroom community that values loyalty, high standards, and hard work.

Dr. Walker has taught in schools across Missouri in a variety of 3rd through 5th grade classrooms. She holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education from the University of Missouri – Columbia and a Doctorate in Education from Maryville University.

Dr. Walker believes that teaching is a very humbling profession and that teachers must be willing to be lifelong learners. “Students will only know as much we know. We do a disservice to them when we limit ourselves.” In that regard, Dr. Walker also pushes herself to learn about her students and how they learn best. Dr. Walker believes that all kids are gifted and that her role is to help students identify and develop those gifts. As she gets to know her individual students’ interests, she then uses those interests and gifts as tools for learning.

By fourth grade, she believes strongly in helping students to become more independent and to take ownership over their classroom. In her classroom, not only do students have jobs, but they are also required to apply for their job and are paid for their work on a consistent basis from “The Biome First National Bank”. Dr. Walker further explains, “When students have a sense of autonomy, they begin to take charge of their own learning.” The teacher then becomes the facilitator, providing opportunities and encouraging students to grow as critical thinkers and problem solvers.

This approach works perfectly within The Biomes School’s academic model, which emphasizes experiential learning and focuses on providing students with opportunities to engage in hands-on, project-based learning. Although class jobs may seem to be just a simple aspect to their classroom, every job is actually filled with many opportunities for learning – from math and writing to communicating effectively. Quickly, the students have learned that they must rely on one another to do their job so that their classroom runs as efficiently as possible.

This reliance on one another transitions into how the students approach classwork. Dr. Walker believes that, in order to be an effective teacher, it is vital to utilize a strength-based vs. deficit approach. For example, rather than focusing on what students don’t know, she focuses on what they do know. Together, they build a context based on what they know, and then they continue to build their knowledge one new concept at a time. For example, in their current Big Question unit, they are exploring world geography by first building context around different continents and bodies of water. Next, they will narrow down and apply that knowledge to North America by building salt maps that reflect the actual geography of the land. Finally, they will build on and use these maps as tools for learning about the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

For Dr. Walker, this type of teaching, where she relies on project-based learning, is the only way she can think of to teach effectively. She believes it allows her students to take ownership of their learning and develop their own interests – a skillset that they will need and will drive their education throughout their entire lives.

 

Learning Beyond Our School Walls

At The Biome, we are striving to expand our learning ecosystem beyond our classrooms and into the community. We believe learning takes place everywhere. In St. Louis, we are fortunate to have incredible community assets such as a world-class zoo. Partnering with the Saint Louis Zoo, we’ve created an immersive, experiential learning experience for our second grade learners.

A core aspect of The Biome School curriculum is the incorporation of Big Question units. These units encourage learners to ask and answer real world questions. Projects are then designed based on the project based learning model or PBL. In PBL, students work on a project over an extended period of time (from a week up to a semester) that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience. Research has shown that students learning through PBL retain content longer and have a deeper understanding of what they are learning (BIE, 2013).

“When we think about experiential learning at The Biome School, it isn’t about doing projects there at the school. We want our kids out in the community; it needs to be real world. We want them to experience the city of St. Louis – but, also, develop relationships with other adults in the community,” explains Bill Kent, President & CEO of The Biome.

This year, for the second grade zoo school experience, learners took on the challenge of researching the activity levels of different animals at the Zoo. To prepare for the onsite research experience, learners began brainstorming questions, creating preliminary maps, and gaining exposure to animals as St. Louis Zookeepers brought in a variety of animals such as snakes, turtles, and birds into the classroom.

From February 26 through March 5, our learners packed up their backpacks, grabbed their iPads, and we’re ready to hit the zoo. Using the iPad tool, Observe to Learn, learners took to observing animals, collecting data, and creating ethograms. Further, throughout the week, learners had the opportunity to make the Zoo their own. Daily, they interacted with the Zoo staff, created maps, measured distances, fed animals, practiced wayfinding, and worked together to solve problems.

Learning did not end once our learners were back in their classrooms at The Biome. Learners discovered the hard work of documenting their scientific work. Together, they created animal poems, developed a large-scale visual map, and reported their work through the scientific method documenting their question, hypotheses, procedures, and results.

So what did our learners think of their experience at the Zoo? They felt like true researchers! Tayonna, 2nd grade learner expressed, “I loved investigating the animals. It was exciting to go every single day and learn in new places.”

The Biome Grows Readers

There remains a dire need to help students improve literacy skills and guide them on a pathway to success. We know that children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers.

It is crucial that children master grade-level reading by 3rd grade because that is when instruction moves from a focus on learning to read to reading to learn. Basic reading skills become vital for continued learning in other subjects, like math and science. Without these foundational skills, students are unable to keep up with their peers and continue to fall farther and farther behind. (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2010, 2017) Worse yet, the ability to overcome literacy challenges only increases overtime – 85% of all juveniles who come in contact with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

At The Biome, we recognize early intervention is critical in supporting students. We refuse to let students fall behind. To combat these statistics, we believe in providing all students with reading intervention and many other specialized services – all at no cost to our families. 

Synia, a highly motivated, creative, and fun-loving second grader is an incredible example of the impact of this type of support. Synia loves reading fairytale stories, practicing multiplication, and creating new games on the playground with her friends. When she entered 2nd grade, she was identified as below grade level in reading. Rather than avoiding this challenge, Synia eagerly looked forward to building her skills during reading intervention with Ms. Cortner, our reading specialist. Weekly they would work together on both reading and writing. Ms. Cortner expressed, “Synia really identifies as a reader and a writer and this is huge!She will say, ‘as I reader I know I can use a strategy like chunking to help me.’ Each time she finished a book you could see her confidence grow.”

Today, Synia can proudly show each and every reading strategy she uses to conquer one book after another. This past April, Synia graduated from individualized reading intervention, moved up nine levels in reading, and is now on level for second grade. 

In order to continue to provide this extraordinary level of support for our students, we must meet our fiscal year fundraising goal. Thanks to generous funding support from our corporate partners at Emerson, Maritz, and Ameren Corporation, we are closer than ever to meeting our goal for our support services needs. Next year, we will hit our next major milestone – opening fourth grade. Your support will allow us to continue to expand and grow The Biome School Community.

Your contribution will help our current students lay the groundwork for their future success and strengthen our community. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at www.thebiomeschool.org or by calling (314) 696-2561.

Dedication of our Outdoor Learning Center

We are proud to be highlighted on STL Today featuring the planting and dedication of our Outdoor Learning Center. Thank you to all those who were involved in this incredible project including the Veiled Prophet Foundation, the Royal Vagabond FoundationEdward Jones, PK Construction, U.S. BankForum Studio, Inc.Butler’s Pantry, Civil Design, Inc., Lipic’s Engagement, and Brentwood Material. Thank you for helping us to create a space where our learners will grow, learn, and become #BuildersoftheFuture!

Download a copy of the STL Feature here.

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.