DENHAM SPRINGS -- The STEAM Express rolled through the Eastover Estates community, drawing a crowd of all ages for a fun-filled afternoon of science, technology, engineering, arts and math on Monday, March 11.
Teachers, school leaders, students, and community leaders volunteered for the program, which marked the first community outreach for the Livingston Parish Public Schools’ STEAM Express, an old school bus that was converted into a traveling makerspace classroom.
The event, held near the Light of the Word Church, drew more than 300 people who enjoyed learning activities, games, music, free food and giveaways. They took home free books, clothes and school supplies, along with useful information on health care, local law enforcement services and resources at the parish’s libraries and Family Resource Center.
“This is exactly what this is about,” said LPPS Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy. “We wanted the STEAM Express to be something for the community, and the community appears to love it.”
Since its unveiling last October, the STEAM Express has been busy.
Several teachers across the district have participated in workshops to learn how to customize activities with the mobile classroom for their students. The district has also incorporated the STEAM Express into a variety of school activities and evening events.
Instructional Technology Facilitator Nikki Lavergne said the express has visited at least 30 schools this year and has been out “two or three” times a week. It has hit all corners of the parish, making stops in Denham Springs but also Springfield, French Settlement and the Watson area.
“The response has been great, and great feedback all the way around,” Lavergne said. “Everybody wants to check it out again as soon as they’ve finished. Some would have it five or six times if they could.”
The STEAM Express is equipped with Wi-Fi, touch-screen monitors and laptops, dry erase boards, flexible seating, changing LED lights, and hands-on, interactive modules to help students learn a variety of subjects.
Its design enables educators to easily transition the set up from elementary-age activities to high school-level projects, and a canopy accompanies the express for outside activities.
Lavergne said the school system recently added handheld digital microscopes that have become popular among students, who use it to closely examine items such as fabric, hair, and pennies.
“One challenge is for them to find the silhouette of Abraham Lincoln on the penny,” she said. “They’ve had a lot of fun with that.”
Like Lavergne, Murphy said he’s been “floored” by the positive response there’s been for the STEAM Express, a 40-foot-long bus designed like a red steam locomotive.
“I was overwhelmed with the positive feedback,” he said. “As I made my way around the grounds of the event, I saw smiles of children as they played and enjoyed all the activities, and I saw interaction of adults with our teachers and community volunteers.”
Murphy said the school district created the STEAM Express with the intent of taking learning into local communities throughout the parish because it makes learning fun for kids and allows parents an opportunity to participate in the process.
“Taking learning into our communities is at the very heart of what we envision with our STEAM Express mobile classroom,” Murphy said. “Our community outreach grew out of that vision as others wanted to join us and be a part of reaching our students and families where they live. It’s really exciting to see the impact we can have as we all work together.”
In addition to school district personnel, other organizations that participated include Assess the Need, English Learners Education Center (ELEC), Mighty Moms, Livingston Parish Library, Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, Stewart Medical Center, and Denham Springs High’s Jackets Against Destructive Decisions (JADD).