Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici visited McKay Elementary School in Beaverton today to learn about Camp Achieve, a summer school program that uses STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and design and mathematics) tools to keep K-5 students engaged and learning during their school vacation.
Camp Achieve is funded through a grant from the Beaverton Education Association, a nonprofit dedicated to serving the Beaverton School District. It specifically targets students who struggle with reading or math skills, and the aim is to prevent the "summer slide," in which students lose critical skills over summer vacation.
Bonamici visited several classrooms where students used laptops to complete research projects, constructed obstacle courses with engineering supplies, and used small, multicolored blocks to create the code for a video game. Some of these projects were brought into school through the Future Ready Bus, a joint project between the district and the foundation that brings STEAM tools to students.
"I was impressed certainly with how the students were engaged, both in the classrooms and in the projects that were brought in through the bus," the congresswoman said. "They were incredibly engaged with hands-on learning."
Camp Achieve currently operates within three different tri-school clusters within the district, and the Beaverton Education Foundation hopes to add a fourth hub next year. Attendance ranges from 85 to 140 students at each site throughout the summer.
Kristine Baggett, the foundation's educational director, said that when compared to students who do not attend Camp Achieve, students who do attend tend to retain more reading and math skills into the next school year.
"When you see the data on what happens with these kids six weeks into school, and how much they have not lost, that's when the power of this shows," Baggett said. "We're trying to expand it. We've got our fourth site set for next year. We just need the money."
Bonamici sits on both education and science committees in the U.S. House of Representatives, and she is an advocate for using STEAM, as opposed to the more well-known STEM (science, technology, engineering and math, without the art and design), in schools. She is co-chair the STEAM caucus in the House, which boasts 87 bipartisan members.
"People are always talking about STEM and how important those jobs are," Bonamici said. "But then when I go out and speak with businesses and employers, they say, 'I need people who can come with ideas and new ways to solve problems and create things.' Nobody was talking about how we can educate students to become more innovative. After some studying and research, it became pretty clear that to do that, both parts of the brain need to be educated. A lot of schools had been cutting arts and music, and that's the wrong direction. STEAM is to integrate arts and design into STEM learning."
Bonamici gave the code building blocks as an example of a STEAM tool, as they incorporated both design and technology into hands-on learning.
The congresswoman said she considers creating policy to be her most important job — though she acknowledged that with the current investigation into President Donald Trump's possible collusion with the Russian government and obstruction of justice, distractions are common in Washington, D.C., these days.
"I can't ignore, of course, everything that's happening in foreign policy or in the investigations," she said. "We did six town halls in the spring, and they had record turnout … people are rightly concerned about this administration, and I share those concerns and am doing all that I can."