Middle school educator and founder of Sisters e S.T.E.A.M., Venneasha Davis, and Director of Curriculum, Norman Catalano, are dedicated to inspiring middle school girls through inquiry-based STEAM education at Woodland Hills School District.
Q: What was the impetus for founding Sisters e S.T.E.A.M.?
Davis: Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. was created to empower middle school girls and increase their self-esteem through inquiry-based STEAM education.
Q: What do you and your students find exciting about science/STEAM?
Davis: It is exciting to see that science is in everything that we do. Each lesson incorporates real-world, culturally relevant components. We enjoy wearing our products and watching other people use them.
Q: How has ASSET professional development informed your teaching?
Davis: ASSET introduced me to the world of inquiry-based science six years ago, and now I am able to teach my students how to tackle real-world questions and issues. Through trainings ASSET taught me how to develop critical thinkers who can solve problems and create solutions for the 21st century.
Q: Could you share a Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. success story?
Davis: 75% of our 8th-grade girls move on to take Honors Biology at Woodland Hills High School. Our girls will tell you that Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. is a sisterhood—the girls stand by and help each other get through their school day. One of my girls came to us in 7th grade with many referrals and suspensions. She had spit on a young lady and received a 10-day suspension. When she returned to school, she came back to the program and asked if she could apologize for her behavior and for letting us down. She was not allowed to attend our end-of-the-year trip due to her behavior, but the next year she came back as a new young lady, a leader and a sister. In 8th grade her teachers saw many improvements in her both socially and academically. Today she participates as one of Sisters e S.T.E.A.M.'s Big Sisters and helps mentor other girls. She has presented Sisters e S.T.E.A.M.’s Beautisty Unit to adults at Maker Faire Pittsburgh and on the benefits of creating a curriculum that is culturally relevant for students at Duquesne's 6th Annual Barbara A. Sizemore Conference.
Q: What has been your proudest moment during your time with Woodland Hills?
Catalano: This past March, I was named the first winner of The Consortium for Public Education's "Champion of Excellence" award for leadership. It is an award built on the shoulders of my many colleagues at Woodland Hills who every day exemplify our motto: "Whatever it takes, our kids are worth it!"
Q: How has ASSET helped make a difference for Woodland Hills School District teachers and students?
Catalano: Woodland Hills is an original member of ASSET. Over the years, ASSET has helped us keep a focus on inquiry-based learning that is exemplified by the Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. program. We continue to grow with ASSET. For example, this year our teachers are developing their STEM skills by being trained in the "Engineering is Elementary" kits that meld many interdisciplinary skills together with science content.
For more information about Sisters e S.T.E.A.M., visit their website.