NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), the lead partner for the Berkshire Early Learning Lab Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) program, announces the campus recently was awarded nearly $324,000 to continue the project in 2017, as it has been extended to a fourth year by the Commonwealth’s Department of Higher Education.

The grant, which began in October 2013 as a three-year, $50,000-per-year project, serves Berkshire County preschool through second grade teachers by providing rich opportunities for these educators to learn about and implement the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education model.

With additional support based on MCLA’s strong performance, as well as the addition of this fourth year, the grant now totals more than $1 million to benefit professional development of early educators in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in the Berkshires, according to Cynthia Brown, vice president of academic affairs at MCLA.

According to the program’s coordinator, Douglas McNally, additional funding through the years supported the addition of a STEAM coach who visits classrooms to model effective integrated STEAM-based lessons, and supports early educators as they develop lessons of their own based on grant-funded activities. 

“It has also funded excellent programming by our partners at The Berkshire Museum, MASS MoCA and the Clark, each of which has provided a professional development experience annually,” McNally said.

Sites presently being served include North Adams Public Schools, Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Northern Berkshire School Union, Pittsfield Public Schools, Head Start and Child Care of the Berkshires.

The University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute, which has been monitoring the ITQ grant at all of its sites throughout the Commonwealth, saw significant evidence that the teachers who participated in the Berkshire Early Learning Lab implemented and benefited from integrated STEAM learning, McNally said. 

Preschool through second grade teachers participate in this program by attending STEAM-themed evening workshops hosted both by MCLA faculty and museum educators from the Clark Art Institute, MASS MoCA and the Berkshire Museum.

These educators go on to develop STEAM lesson plans based on the content learned in the workshops, and implement those lessons in their classrooms. They also collaborate with Dana A. Schildkraut, STEAM education coach for the ITQ grant program, to enhance these STEAM lessons, and reflect on implementation highlights and challenges.

In addition, teachers may attend optional summer courses on STEAM content.

According to Kelly Ryan, a participant in the Berkshire Early Learning Lab ITQ program who teaches at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School in Adams, her students were excited about and engaged in each STEAM lesson she taught.

“I got to see some students shine that don't normally. It was wonderful,” Ryan said.

Bethany Ricci, also of C.T. Plunkett Elementary School, said her students love doing STEAM lessons because they are so interactive.

“They beg to do more of them, and love sharing their discoveries and engineering designs with their friends and families,” Ricci said.

“I now have a deeper understanding of the integration of all disciplines in the successful education of children,” said Karen Blazejewski of North Adams Public Schools.

Integrating the arts, Blazejewski explained, improves access to the STEM curriculum for all students. “[I]t incorporates the senses, provides the opportunity for creativity, encourages social and emotional development, and enhances the mind-body connection to allow complete learning.”

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth's public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.

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