PAWTUCKET – For her work coordinating science, math, and tech teachers in the Pawtucket School Department, Kelly Kerwin, the district’s STEM coach for grades 4-8, was named the first winner of the Rhode Island STEAM Education Leader Award last week.
The award, a joint initiative of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office, the Rhode Island Department of Education, the Rhode Island STEAM Center at Rhode Island College, and IT consulting firm Vertikal6, recognized Kerwin for “her commitment to educating students and expanding access to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).”
“It is quite an honor,” Kerwin told The Breeze, noting that every Pawtucket middle school teacher is involved in the initiative so winning the award is a nice way to “bring that to the forefront.”
“We’re very proud of her,” Cheryl McWilliams, assistant superintendent in Pawtucket, told The Breeze. “She was nominated because she’s taken the helm as the STEAM coach here in the district.”
Kerwin was nominated by the Pawtucket School Department and received the award on April 3 at a ceremony at Rhode Island Colleged, attended by Ken Wagner, former commissioner of elementary and secondary education, Frank Sanchez, president of RIC, Carol Giuriceo, director of the Rhode Island STEAM Center, Rick Norberg, CEO of Vertikal6, and Catherine McConnell, from Raimondo’s office.
As the district’s STEM coach since 2016, Kerwin supports science, math, and technology teachers at Goff Middle School, Jenks Middle School, and Slater Middle School, as well as 4th- and 5th-grade teachers, by facilitating programs, activities, and lessons.
“Each school is a little bit different in what they’re able to offer,” Kerwin said.
The STEAM academies (STEAM adds the arts component where STEM doesn’t include it) are in their third year and run in collaboration with Roger Williams University, McWilliams said, adding that the schools are on track to receive STEAM certification.
STEAM is incorporated into everyday lessons and school-wide initiatives and projects, she said.
“It’s very, very important for students because it gives them a holistic approach to critical thinking and problem solving,” McWilliams said. “Incorporating (STEAM) directly is a more powerful learning experience for children.”
As part of the nomination process, one of Kerwin’s lessons, which asked students to build their own speakers, was submitted. As part of the project, a BOSE engineer provided professional development for teachers to show how he built the unit, she said.
The lesson combined music, science, and math and “reinforces (students’) content knowledge,” Kerwin said. “It’s an exciting example of projects being done in schools.”
Applications for the award were open to all full-time K-12 teachers in Rhode Island with at least three years’ experience.
As the honoree, Kerwin will work with the Rhode Island STEAM Center to help lead two professional learning workshops to share innovative STEAM practices with her colleagues around the state, including representatives from libraries, nonprofits, and corporations to “bring the STEAM idea beyond the world of education,” she said.
She will also receive a $1,000 award, supported by Vertikal6 and the Rhode Island STEAM Center.
Surprised by the monetary prize, Kerwin said she plans to use it to “develop STEAM even more in schools” through acquiring more materials and providing more hands-on opportunities for students.
Prior to her current role, Kerwin was a science teacher for grades 6-8, and served as an instructional coach in Central Falls.
She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education and a master’s of education in urban teaching, both from Providence College. She’s currently studying to become certified as an elementary English as a second language teacher.