New CSTEM school bringing 3D printing, virtual reality and more to Marana students

After only a year of construction, students in Marana, Arizona now have access to a new public-school option – one filled with modern classrooms and technology, and curriculum to match.

Dove Mountain CSTEM K-8 is the eighteenth school in the Marana Unified School District, which they describe as an “innovative 21st century learning environment.”

“Kids will be able to create and invent in specialized spaces that are designed specifically for those opportunities,” said Andrea Divijak, Principal of Dove Mountain CSTEM K-8. “It’s just amazing the opportunity that these students are going to be getting to prepare for their future through the education that they’ll get here.”

The school features Makerspaces, which are special classrooms filled with 3D printers, sewing machines, woodworking equipment, and other tools designed to facilitate hands-on learning. One such Makerspace is even fitted with a large computer numerical control (CNC) router, which will allow students to program and cut custom designs from large sheets of wood.

Other high-tech learning environments within the school include its zSpaces, which are labs that incorporate augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality technology into lessons. The technology will allow students to have learning experiences that otherwise may not be possible, such as to “dissect organs and dive into volcanoes,” according to the school’s website.

“They’re going to be able to take science and technology to a level far beyond what they have been able to do in the past,” Divijak said.

The computer science portion of Dove Mountain’s curriculum is partially guided by a partnership with Code to the Future, a national organization that provides coding-oriented curriculum and coaching to school districts. The partnership provides learning opportunities to students in areas like LEGO robotics and video game design.

“It’s being able to pick up those soft skills, logic and way of thinking, way of processing, that they can apply in any industry and any field in the marketplace,” said Jacob Makuvire, Vice President of Code to the Future.

According to MUSD Superintendent Dr. Doug Wilson, Dove Mountain is planning on using this curriculum to help teach students vital problem-solving skills, which he says will help prepare students for a future in the modern workforce.

“We’re not trying to develop coders,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we provide opportunities for kids to understand the skillset that they need for the future.”

Another key aspect of the curriculum, Divijak said, is that STEM-focused learning opportunities won’t be restricted exclusively to the school’s middle school students.

“Our science labs provide opportunities for young kids, kindergarten all the way up through eighth grade,” she said. “In a traditional school, mostly those opportunities are provided to middle school students.”

Dove Mountain held its grand opening ceremony on Tuesday July 23, attracting hundreds of local residents and community members. After speeches by MUSD officials and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, parents and students had opportunities to tour the school’s classrooms and outdoor spaces and speak with teachers and staff.

The design of the school integrates an open-concept layout and large glass windows to create an environment that allows for lots of natural sunlight. Many classrooms have direct access to outdoor space, which will allow for an increase in relevant outdoor learning opportunities, according to the district. Classrooms also have features that allow for flexible use of the space, including folding partition walls and different types of furniture, ranging from bench seats to cushioned chairs and rocking stools.

Additionally, the school has a variety of high-tech safety features, including automatic lock-down doors and minimal points of entry compared to other school layouts.

Outdoors, students have access to several playgrounds and a large, grassy field for athletic activities. And while CSTEM is the focus of Dove Mountain, the school also has traditional design features, including a gymnasium, cafeteria/auditorium flex space, and music rooms.

Construction on the new tech-heavy school began in July 2018 after a roughly six-month design process. District staff initially toured CSTEM schools in Texas for ideas, and also took inspiration from an existing MUSD School, Gladden Farms Elementary School. Dr. Wilson estimates the project will cost roughly $31 million.

“Our parents understand that this is something that is really important for their children’s future,” Dr. Wilson said. “There were a lot of parents out there and a lot of kids saying ‘thank you’ and ‘congratulations’ when I walked through the hallway.”

Brandi and Trevor Jones moved to Marana last year and said they’re excited to be enrolling their three boys in the new school, which they say surpassed their expectations.

“It looks great. I love that it’s a different setup than you’d typically see,” Brandi said. “My boys love the space.”

Classes at Dove Mountain CSTEM K-8 will begin on Monday August 5. The school currently has about 810 students enrolled across all grade levels and is nearing enrollment capacity for the coming school year.

“I’m just grateful to the community around us,” Divijak said. “The families have been very excited to finally have a school in this community. It’s an honor to be a part of something this special.”

Nick Serpa

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