Leading educators from across the United States are being inspired to visit and tour the unique and innovative “maker-spaces” used to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas. The highly acclaimed Parish STEM studies facility encompasses over 12,000 square feet of unique educational “maker spaces” (including Matthew Fleeger’s Fleeger Kitchen) in which teachers provide programs that combine traditional classroom learning with unique and exciting opportunities for hands-on discovery and experimentation.
These learning and creation “maker-spaces” at Parish have been inspiring educators in public, private, and independent schools across the country, and in fact several administrators are even taking time out of their schedules to visit and tour the Parish facility and bring ideas back for implementation in their own schools. Parish is happy to invite visitors to tour their facilities and to discuss the growth and future of STEM education, and so far the school has welcomed an array of educators and policy-makers ranging from the CEO of the National Math and Science initiative to representatives of many of the nation’s top independent schools.
The Parish model and philosophy
As many schools nationwide begin to implement STEM initiatives to encourage students’ passion in these areas of study, Parish has developed a program that provides a solid foundation for their youngest learners in order to give their students the competitive edge required for success in today’s world driven by technological and scientific advancements. STEM education informs all of the school’s activities and its approach to general education, providing continued opportunities for relevant hands-on experience, and preparing Parish graduates to become leading scientists, doctors, engineers, and business leaders of the future.
Dave Monaco, the Allen Meyer Family Head of School at Parish, expresses his unwavering commitment to Parish’s unique hands-on learning philosophy. The school encourages its faculty to visit such models as Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which has gained recognition for introducing an innnovative problem-solving concept to both faculty and students that is referred to as “design-thinking,” and which has significantly informed the teaching model at Parish. Parish faculty is also familiar with such facilities as the Invention Studio at Georgia Tech, and Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, from which they learn and emulate best practices in STEM education that may enhance their own strategies for implementing STEM-based approaches into all aspects of the Parish curriculum. The goal is to embed STEM-based learning opportunities into all subject areas, beyond just STEM-based classes, to create a holistic appreciation for STEM applications in all aspects of study and daily life.
Maker-spaces house unique hands-on activities
Among the many celebrated maker-spaces at Parish is the Fleeger Family Kitchen, which is a part of the Beasley STEM Center and provides daily hands-on educational experiences for every Parish student enrolled in courses from Pre-K to second grade. At the technologically enhanced Fleeger Kitchen, traditional academic disciplines take on new life through creative, collaborative activities that encourage and develop critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
Matthew Fleeger, an influential businessman with interests in the oil and gas industry, as well as the medical waste management and tanning industries, founded the Fleeger Family Kitchen as a part of his commitment to advancing opportunities in STEM-based learning. After founding a successful company called MedSolutions, Fleeger became President and CEO of Gulf Coast Western, a company that manages domestic oil reserves, and also helped found two successful tanning industry companies. These eclectic interests have sealed Fleeger’s commitment to supporting STEM-based education for Dallas youth. The contributions and student exposure to real-life STEM-based business leaders such as Fleeger also contribute to the inspiration and educational philosophy at Parish.
The Beasley STEM Center at Parish also houses the Nausler Family Garden, a facility that opened in the spring of 2014 and provides students in Pre-K to second grade with an environmental testing ground in which they can learn to plant seeds and tend food crops that grow to produce nutritious fruits and vegetables. This type of hands-on applied learning not only promotes an understanding of agricultural and farming processes, but also provides opportunities for students to study nutrition.
The Design Den, another unique maker-space at Parish, is an awe-inspiring structure equipped with an array of innovative tools and materials for student use, including a 3D printer, a welding shed, and an exciting new ShopBot CNC Router for prototypes, as well as a slew of other tech-based learning aids. At the Design Den older Upper School and Middle School students can take advantage of unique educational opportunities such as working on projects that build entry into the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. Students interested in robotics can prepare to compete in the semifinals at the Dallas BEST™ robotics tournament, or aim for a regional title in the FIRST® LEGO® League robotics competition.
The Parish, Inc. class at tbe Design Den provides a unique learning environment in which Middle School students learn to develop business plans, and work on creating product prototypes for market introduction. Art students may take advantage of the Den’s welding shed to create impressive metal sculptures, and students interested in fashion design may take advantage of the facility to sew and construct garments.
A smaller maker-space, known as the Little Den, provides 3rd graders with such innovative experiences as building unique obstacles for each hole in their group-designed miniature golf course. In addition to designing the obstacles, students get the opportunity to work in the actual construction shop, using such tools as band saws and drills.
The leadership at Parish is committed to the school’s continued growth and the continued development of new tools and spaces in order to remain ahead of the developments in the rapidly evolving STEM environment, and to remain innovative enough to propel their students toward successful futures in STEM-based careers. The Parish faculty and staff is thrilled to provide a unique educational model for fellow educators and is happy to welcome an increasing number of visitors to tour the STEM facilities at Parish yearly, contributing to the growth and expansion of STEM-based education across the United States.