First 5 has awarded a $150K four-year Early Learning Plan implementation grant to the Santa Barbara Unified School District for a project at the Harding University Partnership School (HUPS). Devon Azzam and Lilly Garcia—the outreach team from UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School—along with Harding Principal Veronica Binkley, and education consultant Sean O’Brien (Education, Ph.D., ’17), helped conceive and write the grant that will develop a STEAM Lab, nature playscapes, and support professional development for teachers in these areas of learning. If the project at HUPS shows proof-of-concept, then it will be replicated across the school district.
“This project merges outdoor education and STEAM, and aims to help kids feel more connected to the natural environment and empowered to solve problems in the local and global community,” Assistant Director of Outreach Azzam says. “It addresses both social and environmental justice issues in the Westside neighborhood by providing students access to 21st century learning environments as well as access to green space.”
Crucial to the project is the creation of a PK - 3rd grade STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics) Lab that will provide hands-on learning experiences for PK-6th grade students. That learning in the STEAM lab will be further reinforced in a new park-like outdoor space and a sensory naturescape that catalyzes teachers to consistently bring learning and exploration outside. This space will be designed to promote imagination, inquiry, and kinesthetic learning opportunities.
The funding will also help provide professional development to leverage these new environments with 21st Century skill building to support the school’s Emergent Multilingual Learners and socio-economically disadvantaged households. Furthermore, the project should allow access to feeder Early Childhood Education programs and neighborhood families by keeping Harding’s campus open to the community after school hours.