Pioneer Elementary Principal Presents Dream for STEAM

All district students will be eligible to attend the new magnet school in Gig Harbor next fall.


Pioneer Elementary School Principal Stephanie Strader talks to parents. Photo: Aimee Gordon, Peninsula School District

Parents, community members, school administrators and staff gathered at the future home of Peninsula School District’s first magnet school, Pioneer Elementary, Nov. 13 for a “Dream for STEAM” community event.

“Upon full opening,” scheduled for fall 2020, “we’ll have about 30 classrooms, K-5. That’s about 500 students,” said Principal Stephanie Strader. “Being a magnet school means we get to pull from our entire community of students, so all the way south to Longbranch, all the way out to Fox Island, up to Crescent Valley.”

In addition to presenting current blueprints for each floor of the building and the playground, as well as images of the future Pioneer Elementary, Strader discussed the meaning of STEAM and her vision for the school.

“I want us as a Peninsula School District to decide what STEAM means for us,” she said. “STEAM does stand for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. But what does that look like within our practice and our beliefs and our philosophy here in Peninsula School District?

“How we go about that, what our beliefs are, our values, our morals, it’s all something that we get to create from the ground up, and that’s an exciting opportunity,” she said.

“Where most of our schools are really based on literacy and math, this school would be more science-based, and the literacy and math would come in the science-type project,” said Superintendent of Elementary Programs John Hellwich.

“If we’re going to learn about character development, they are empowered to choose whatever kind of text they want, to talk about that character development,” Strader said. “If we’re learning about life science, they have the power to ask the questions and to design the process and the product and explain their thinking and show their mastery.” “I want us as a Peninsula School District to decide what STEAM means for us."

Strader is “really, really excited” about the plan for a large, open “Maker Space” that can transform to meet the needs of students and instructors. “When I think of Maker Space, I think of a creativity room,” she said. “It could be an art room. It could be a science room. It could be a place where kids are growing plants, it could be pottery making. It could be glass making, maybe. It could be woodworking.”

“STEAM is a passion of mine,” said Minter Creek Elementary parent and engineer Maria Kusche, who runs the annual STEAM Family Night event at Minter. “My kiddo — he loves math and science. He’s really always grasped onto them.”

Kusche’s son, fourth grader Brody Finch interrupted his mom to insist, “Math is better than reading.”

“I love the concept of a STEAM-focused elementary school,” Kusche said. “It’s this age that really, if you plant that seed, it sparks and then they continue on.”

“Just because we are a STEAM magnet school doesn’t mean these things are not happening in other schools,” Strader said. “What might be different is our delivery model, how we’re trying to get the students to those standards.”

Strader and Hellwich also addressed parents’ questions about the potential lottery system for applying to Pioneer and plans for school transportation.

“We have been granted and guaranteed that we will be transporting,” Strader said. “Just the model for that is unclear.”

“There are various options,” Hellwich said. “One would be that you might transport your kid to a hub that they get picked up at. Or maybe they get picked up at their neighborhood school and go from there.”

Strader hopes to start communicating the details of those processes by early to mid-January, and to host more community events.

“My goal definitely is to make it as transparent and public as possible, I want everyone to understand what we’re doing,” she said. “There are my cards on the tables,” she said to the room full of parents, many with young children in tow. “Feel free to pick one up, give me a call, send me an email. I’m happy to talk with you.”

The new school is located at 8502 Skansie Avenue in Gig Harbor, occupying and expanding the site of the former Boys & Girls Club.