class act: Best practices in action

class act:
Best practices in action

class act:
Best practices in action

A small district achieves big success in STEM


ucerne Valley Unified School District sits at the base of the San Bernardino National Forest in the Mojave Desert. A small, rural district consisting of an elementary school and a middle/high school, Lucerne Valley USD serves about 750 students who come from the surrounding 600 square miles. Due to declining enrollment and other financial constraints, resources are sometimes spread thin, and the district struggled to provide top-quality STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — programs. That all changed when students at Lucerne Valley Elementary School began the 2018–19 school year with a new, state-of-the-art STEM lab, also called a SmartLab by the district. But how did they do it?

With advocacy from the school board team and support from the community — including contributions from longtime supporter the Mitsubishi Cement Corporation Educational Foundation — the district funded the lab. The board of trustees voted to award the contract to Creative Learning Systems, which has a 30-year history of developing labs that put technology in the hands of students and engage them with personalized, project-based learning.

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t currently exist,” said Lucerne Valley USD trustee Tom Courtney. “We must be competitive with the rest of the world when it comes to engineering, technology and science. We are giving our students a fair shake to be competitive in a worldwide global system.”

In early September, excitement permeated the official opening and dedication of the “Bud Biggs STEM lab” — in memory of the late H.O. Bud Biggs, the longtime Mitsubishi Cement Corp. plant manager who helped donate thousands of dollars to Lucerne Valley schools. Education officials in attendance included San Bernardino County Schools Superintendent Ted Alejandre, CSBA President Mike Walsh and Small School Districts’ Association Executive Director Debra Pearson, as well as Assemblymember Jay Obernolte.

“What an honor it was to be in attendance as the community joined together to dedicate the Lucerne Valley Elementary STEM Lab in honor of Mr. Bud Biggs,” said CSBA President Mike Walsh. “It was a testament to the thoughtful and collaborative work that the district has partnered with local businesses so that that the students can have the opportunity to develop a love for computer science at an early age. It’s a great means to give students the foundation to fully participate in 21st-century careers regardless of what those careers look like.”

The SmartLab includes six computer stations and encourages students to work in teams to develop projects in the areas of scientific data and analysis, circuitry, computer graphics, digital communications, mechanics and structures, alternative and renewable energy, software engineering, and robotics and control technology. Students were on hand at the event to demonstrate projects already underway this school year, including generating electricity with an apple and a robot that moves according to code created by the students.

Biggs STEM LAB Mike Walsh: CSBA President Mike Walsh participates in a tour of the Bug Biggs STEM lab. Photo: Peter Day

“The community partners, governance team and staff should all take a bow and celebrate the completion of such a project that will enrich the education of all their students for years to come,” said Pearson. “Completing this type of project is no small feat, as small school districts must overcome a myriad of obstacles before they can recognize the fruits of their labor, such as addressing infrastructure issues, speed/bandwidth needs, finding and maintaining technical expertise of staff and financial assistance.”

When asked whether he had any advice for small districts looking to accomplish large goals, Courtney said a lot depends on the strength of your leadership team. The district’s current superintendent, Peter Livingston, championed the project from its inception and worked to identify the company that could make it a reality.

“The excitement that I saw at that dedication was the most excitement I have ever seen in this small town,” added Courtney. “It doesn’t matter how big or little you are, it’s how big you dream.”