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New STEAM Lab Inspires Student Success

109th St. Elementary School in South LA celebrates beautification project that will expand students’ opportunities to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math

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Children learn about the world – and themselves – through imaginative and creative play. Now, with a new science, technology, engineering, arts, and math lab, students at 109th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles will have more opportunities to engage in activities that help them achieve their full potential.

In coordination with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Jordan-Locke Network of Schools, Kaiser Permanente staff transformed a classroom into a vibrant space where students can create hands-on projects from robots to wooden pieces of art. A dramatic, 360-degree, space-themed mural wraps the room in vivid colors as silhouettes of children and robots explore the celestial bodies. Community partner Two Bit Circus Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, designed a collaborative workspace stocked with essential tools and materials for STEAM projects that inspire critical and innovative thinking. Local STEAM heroes from professional dancers to astronauts decorate the walls, encouraging students to pursue their own interests and excel.

The STEAM lab is part of a beautification project that also includes a new, relaxing learning garden that features native plants, and colorful murals and planters. “Our new STEAM lab helps prepare our students for a wide variety of jobs, and jobs that don’t even exist yet,” said Chrystal Battey-Brown, principal, 109th Street Elementary School, at the project’s March 7 unveiling. “Every one of our students can become a STEAM hero.”

'Making the world a better place’

Volunteer staff from Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre and Watts Counseling and Learning Center did most of the beautification work on this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January. In recent years, the same group also completed significant MLK projects at 2 other Jordan-Locke Network campuses – Weigand Elementary and Barrett Elementary schools.

Kaiser Permanente has had a longstanding commitment to South LA, providing counseling, education, and outreach services at WCLC for more than 50 years. Through Educational Theatre, Kaiser Permanente also has offered free plays and workshops for school-age children and their families in South LA and across Southern California that help make the healthy choice the easy choice for over 3 decades.

“Kaiser Permanente was so proud to partner with 109th Street School as part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service,” said Angela Coron, managing director, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, at the event. “For us, it’s a day on rather than a day off. In the spirit of Dr. King, it’s about volunteering and making the world a better place.”

“Schools are the heart of health in communities,” Coron continued. “Our partnership with 109th Street School helps us fulfill our mission, which is to make communities healthier for everyone.”

Tapping into 109th Street School’s beauty

Jose Chavarry, manager, Educational Theatre, told an auditorium crowd of students, school staff, and VIP guests that although beautification projects imply improving a space, the beauty of 109th Street School and the community was clear from the start.

“We try to capture that beauty and spirit in painting the walls and everything we do for the project,” Chavarry said. “The truth is, to fully capture all the beauty, we’d have to paint every inch of every wall in the school – but we do the best we can.”

Luis Rodriguez, poet laureate of Los Angeles (2014-2016), was named a STEAM hero in the new lab. Honored by the recognition, Rodriguez recalled attending 109th Street School in the first grade.

"It was a tough time for me then – I didn’t know English and couldn’t put 2 words together,” Rodriguez said to the crowd. Pulling out 15 books he has since authored, Rodriguez encouraged the students to bring more beauty and goodness into the world and fight for truth: “Then you’ll be able to strive to be anything you want to be.”

Admiring the new lab, Luis Heckmuller, instructional director, LAUSD, Local District South, said the potential to thrive often goes unnoticed in under-resourced areas such as South Los Angeles.

"One of our biggest resources is our children,” Heckmuller said. “They’re just as capable as anyone else. The only thing they’re lacking at times is the background knowledge or experiences. By providing a place like this, we are in essence leveling the playing field and bringing equity to something that is missing. And in this case, all our students need is the opportunity to develop those experiences. This STEAM lab offers that opportunity.”

Check out this short video for more comments from 109th Street Elementary School Principal Chrystal Battey-Brown:

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s work in the community, visit http://community.kp.org