The Robbinsdale Area School District recently approved plans to create a new magnet school with a science, technology, engineering, arts and math curriculum for the 2012-13 school year.

The new "STEAM" school for grades K-5 will take up to 440 students, some from other buildings in the district and some from outside the district. It will be housed at the vacant Olson Elementary School site in Golden Valley.

Last year, the school board convened a committee to deal with future crowding at the current elementary schools, said Tia Clasen, district spokeswoman. A magnet program was put forth as one possible solution, and "they originally landed on STEM [science technology, engineering and math], but Robbinsdale has such a long and very rich history in the arts," Clasen said.

STEAM curriculums have been gaining popularity recently. The Mounds View School District is planning to implement one in all three of its middle schools next year; Edgewood Middle School, one of the three, will host a magnet program for students in the Northwest Suburban Integration District area.

As in Robbinsdale, officials in the Mounds View district felt it was important to integrate the arts component with the STEM curriculum.

One argument for the STEAM curriculum is that it teaches and encourages innovation, said Harvey Seifter, director of the Art of Science Learning, a New York-based organization studying and advocating STEAM programs.

"When you think about Leonardo and Steve Jobs, intense creativity in times of transformation happens at the intersection of science and arts," Seifter said.

Although his organization does not track how many schools are moving to a STEAM model, Seifter said the numbers are definitely increasing.

Penny Howard, the principal at Edgewood, said she thinks students will be attracted to the more hands-on approach to the school day. "It just makes the learning environment more integrated and ultimately a richer environment for the students," Howard said.

The Robbinsdale program is still in its early stages, Clasen said. The district hopes to hire a principal in the coming days, and a site coordinator will follow.

There will be three sections of grades 1 through 5 and two sections of kindergarten, which means up to a couple of dozen new teachers could be hired, depending on enrollment. This is the second year in a row of slight increases in enrollment in the district, Clasen said.

Although the Robbinsdale schools hope to lure families from neighboring districts with the STEAM program, Clasen said the program also aims to alleviate pressure on some district schools that are nearing capacity. One, Forest Elementary, already is at capacity .

As with the district's Spanish Immersion program, families have until the end of February to apply. A computerized lottery will be used to select students if the number of applications is greater than the number of spots available.

Clasen said district officials are currently working to decide the focus areas for the curriculum. Planning will take off once key staff have been identified and hired.

"We have such a rich tradition in the arts, it seemed like such a seamless fit," Clasen said. "Integrating that arts component is relatively unique, and it's a little new."

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