Clear Creek ISD ignites students’ STEM passions virtually, in person through enhanced science programs

Lane Graham at Hall Elementary shows off the observer he made in engineering lab. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Lane Graham at Hall Elementary shows off the observer he made in engineering lab. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)

Lane Graham at Hall Elementary shows off the observer he made in engineering lab. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)

Image description
Brookside Intermediate science magnet students spend time in the library, exploring science applications and performing experiments. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Image description
Hall Elementary Clear Connections student Julian Parks tests the durability of the house he built for Huff and Puff engineering lab. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Image description
Seabrook Intermediate science magnet students participate in a STEM lab. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
As Clear Creek ISD students adjust to various changes this school year, liaisons for the Science Magnet Program and Elementary-STEM programs said the experiences young learners gain through enriched science education are critical in maintaining their social and emotional health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade can participate both in-person and online in enhanced science programs at various CCISD campuses. Program liaisons said the program activities and culture lead to high-achieving students with an increased appreciation for STEM.

District officials said the magnet programs were implemented when attendance began dropping off at some schools and when STEM education, or instruction in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, was being talked about more and more across the nation. Magnet schools and programs focus on a specific area of study.

Sixth- through eighth-graders have the opportunity to participate in the science magnet curriculum on campus or through Clear Connections at Seabrook and Brookside intermediate schools. Seabrook’s program, the original one in the district, is in its 28th year, and Brookside's is in its third.

Science magnet students begin and end their school day an hour earlier. District officials said the program draws on the talents available through local NASA scientists whenever possible for things like speaking engagements. Science magnet students also take a scientific methods course, in which they learn to create and perform experiments and present projects.

The exclusive field trips typically available to science magnet students are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brookside Intermediate Program Liaison Joey Segura said educators have found ways to quickly adapt and offer similar experiences through screens with the help of organizations like the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Galveston Bay Foundation.

“We had to be able to pivot a little and really rely on those virtual field trip opportunities,” he said. “While we couldn’t take them out to the experiences, we relied on the community partners to bring those experiences to us.”

Moreover, not all learners are on campuses to participate in-person. Segura and Becca Rolater, the science magnet liaison for Seabrook Intermediate, said they have worked to build community through virtual activities, such as a guest speaker series and app-based team building games. Despite this year’s challenges, program retention remains high due to what Rolater called students' “intrinsic motivation” to continue exploring STEM concepts.

“Students right now are really wanting to latch onto something that is outside of their home,” Rolater said, with particular respect to virtual learners. “They just need that interaction with their friends.”

Despite the lack of field trips, remote and in-person learners are thinking outside the box to apply STEM concepts. All students use low-tech, simple materials for their designs and projects—such as items from recycling bins—because the goal is simply to build the creative process, program liaisons said.

The program provides an important avenue for middle school students to build themselves up through peer interactions, Rolater said.

“It’s [important] to really make sure that these kids feel welcome and that these kids feel this is a safe place, regardless of [learning environment],” she said. “We want students to understand and to see STEM in and out of the classroom.”

The skills learned translate to other parts of students’ lives, such as their self-confidence and work ethic, said Jan Larsen, former science magnet liaison for Seabrook Intermediate. While the program is not solely for straight-A students, the work science magnet students produce often stands out from that of their peers, particularly in regional and state science fairs, Larsen said.

Magnet program applications for the 2020-21 school year will reopen in January 2021.

Younger students can participate in the Elementary-STEM program at Ed White and Hall elementary schools, where the programs are in their seventh and third years, respectively. Ed White Program Liaison Laura Mackay said the district pioneered its engineering lessons at Ed White and received positive responses.

Engineering, designing and critical thinking skills were previously not emphasized across the district, but every CCISD elementary school now incorporates engineering lessons into their curriculums, even non-E-STEM schools. The integration allows for every student to experience the kind of critical thinking, creativity and growth mindset Ed White and Hall students are exposed to each day, Mackay said.

Many of the same barriers faced by middle school students as they learn virtually are also present at the elementary level, she added: While a vast majority of parents are excited their children have the opportunity for enriched science lessons from home, some have said carrying out the experiments without a teacher present can be complex for students and parents alike.

“It’s not just 10 or 15 minutes a day of quick school,” Mackay said of the lessons. “It’s been tough to do hands-on science in general. ... Everyone’s stepping up as much as they can, and it’s not easy, but they’re doing it for the kids.”

Both E-STEM schools have the same motto: “Make mistakes, learn, redesign.” The motto, which aims to foster a different approach to problem solving, inadvertently becomes part of students’ psyche, Mackay said.

“If you love science, especially engineering, and you like to build, ... our [program] gives you a lot of opportunities you aren’t going to get on a regular campus,” Mackay said.

By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.



Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Galveston County up nearly 300% since late October

A total of 14,465 county residents have tested positive for the coronavirus since mid-March; of the total cases, 89% are considered to have recovered.A total of 14,465 county residents have tested positive for the coronavirus since mid-March; of the total cases, 89% are considered to have recovered.

Dozens of clinics throughout the county offer COVID-19 testing services. (William C. Wadsack/Community Impact Newspaper)
COVID-19 testing locations remain open in Montgomery County and more local news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.

Heading into Thanksgiving, Texas Medical Center continues to report uptick in hospitalizations

The total number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Texas Medical Center facilities has increased by more than 50% over two weeks.

The Harris County Justice Administration Department is working to release final reports and launch pilot programs in early 2021. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Harris County Justice Administration Department makes headway on countywide criminal justice studies

The department is working to release the final versions of several studies and launch pilot programs with local law enforcement groups in early 2021.

Adelaide's sells items from local brands whenever possible, such as kits from The Heights-based My Drink Bomb. (Colleen Ferguson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Adelaide's Boutique stores strive to be ‘first-stop’ shops for gifts

The Adelaide’s Boutique locations—14870 Space Center Blvd., Houston, and 6011 W. Main St., League City—are meant to serve as customers’ destinations for clothes, shoes, accessories, gifts and other boutique items, many of which are locally sourced.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

"Remember, we don't want to invite COVID-19 to the dinner table," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a Nov. 23 press conference urging caution amid rising COVID-19 positivity rates. (Screenshot via ABC13)
Mayor Sylvester Turner urges caution heading into Thanksgiving holiday

Houston officials also said 333 health providers had been identified as future vaccine delivery sites.

With remote learning opportunities becoming increasingly prevalent, CCISD is reviewing its flexible learning options—such as Cyber Cafe and the Clear Connections program—and examining current TEA guidelines to determine if changes are needed to any of these programs and policies. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Clear Creek ISD updates: District adding new 2021-22 secondary courses, improving educational experiences

Five new secondary courses will be offered next school year; some courses will replace those previously offered, and some will be new courses altogether.

New guidance from the Texas Education Agency allows districts to require virtual learners who are failing classes or who have three or more unexcused absences to return to school in person. (Courtesy Canva)
Clear Creek ISD imposes grades-based restrictions on virtual learning

Although the Texas Education Agency allows schools to use attendance as a reason for mandating in-person learning with some students, CCISD officials chose to only focus on those who are academically struggling.

protestor in crowd with who police the police sign
New report: Houston police oversight board lagging behind major Texas cities

The report suggested having no oversight board has a better effect on public trust than having a dysfunctional board.

Laura Colangelo
Q&A: Laura Colangelo discusses challenges facing private schools during pandemic

Colangelo said private schools have adapted to remote learning and other obstacles in 2020 despite less revenue and a 9% decline in enrollment statewide.