Education is an area of community outreach that has been an ongoing focus of Freeport LNG. In 2015, the company donated $100,000 to the Brazosport ISD Education Foundation for use across the BISD's 11 elementary, 2 middle, 3 intermediate and 2 high schools that serve over 12,000 students. The gift was split into two parts by the school district: $50,000 went to its Grants for Great Ideas Program, and the other half to the Stephen F. Austin STEM Academy.
The Grants for Great Ideas Program is a fund for teachers who have developed innovative and creative projects for their classrooms. Freeport LNG funds benefited a lot of great ideas including robotics class called Robotics for Everyone, STEMscope that supplies digital, print and kit resources that teachers use enrich the STEM curriculum, STEM summer camps and an end-of-year school celebration called Summerfest.
The donation to the Stephen F. Austin STEM Academy was particularly impactful. Stephen F. Austin is BISD's elementary school for the 2000-resident community area of Jones Creek. "Jones Creek is a small, tight-knit community," said Brazosport ISD's Education Foundation Executive Director, Brittany Rosenbohm. "There is not a lot of population growth in Jones Creek, so the campus had not grown in a very long time. There really needed to be something that ignited some energy there—some excitement."
The excitement came from the academy’s principal, Melania Gutierrez. "I did a great deal of research on 21st century learning and the skills our students would need once they entered the workforce," said Gutierrez. "There are four main components: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. For students, STEM is this new way of thinking. It’s about the process that they go through in their learning."
Principal Gutierrez decided to pursue the objective of making the school a
For students, STEM
is a new way of thinking. It’s about the process that they go through in their learning."
– Melania Gutierrez
full-fledged STEM Academy—unique for an elementary school, and one of only eleven in the state. The process began two years ago, with 2016 marking the first year it was designated a Texas Education Agency-accredited STEM Academy. What makes this program unique is the project-based learning focus by all teachers, whether it is a traditional STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) or the arts and humanities. Students solve problems with steps that require them to identify and understand the task using all their subject focuses.
The academy desired a sizable lab where students could work in teams, have access to movable and reconfigurable furniture and offer better Internet and power sources.
Freeport LNG's donation made this a reality. "The donation from Freeport LNG was vital to our STEM projects," said Gutierrez. "It created excitement among the staff because we had a place where students could plan, create and carry out their projects as opposed to trying to do everything inside the classroom."
An example of this learning approach was the Junk Boat Races for second graders. The challenge was to design a floating craft that delivers small, plastic passengers across a pool of water solely by wind power. The students worked in teams to plan their crafts, chose construction materials and ran initial ”seaworthiness trials” after which enhancements could be made. Finally, they competed against other teams in races to determine which craft design was the fastest.
CRITICAL THINKING • COLLABORATION • CREATIVITY • COMMUNICATION
A STEM Classroom Story
Future programs planned for the STEM Academy include collaboration with ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station), an international consortium of amateur radio organizations and space agencies. Students at the Stephen F. Austin STEM Academy will develop projects around the Intentional Space Station and have direct contact with the station via ARISS. They are one of only 13 sites in the world chosen to do this.
"What we’re trying to create is a new generation of problem solvers," observed Gutierrez, "that can take on complex world issues and that will have the persistence to keep going until they’re able to find a solution. I think that’s the greatest benefit of a STEM education. It doesn’t focus on what’s right and what’s wrong; it focuses on 'how can it be better?'”
Rosenbohm added, "We have stayed in the same box for a long time, and it’s time for us to get out of that box and to do things differently. I think our students have been successful. I think they will continue to be very successful and I think the future of education here is very bright."
– Brittany Rosenbohm