As declining enrollment and school consolidation remains a hot-button issue within the Scottsdale Unified School District, one of the city's elementary schools has seen a 13 percent climb in enrollment with the help of a science and math partnership with Arizona State University.
In its first year, ASU's Engineering Department and Navajo Elementary School are executing a partnership through the STEM program - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - to provide a hands-on approach to engineering and science as well as mathematics.
This year, enrollment at Navajo, 4525 N. Granite Reef Road, is at 569, after seeing a decline from 601 students in 2006 to 520 last year, according to enrollment numbers from the district.
Many of the students who have enrolled in Navajo are from Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix and Queen Creek, and a large number of students have come from Pueblo Elementary School, according to district information.
STEM, which benefits students in kindergarten through sixth grade, is helping instill an interest in engineering and science in younger students through the help of ASU's engineering graduate students, said Kyle Squires, an aerospace and mechanical engineering professor at ASU. Squires is co-director of the program with Lynn Cozart, a mechanical engineering professor at ASU.
"Our enrollment jump was unexpected, but a pleasant surprise," said Shaun Holmes, Navajo's principal.
The school board has seen a proposal that would combine Navajo and Pueblo elementary schools at Mohave Middle School, but district officials have said no date has been set for its consideration.
"I see this as a tremendous opportunity to be the leader in the community which translates into commitment. We're bringing the expertise of ASU's engineering students to provide hands-on instruction for the students so they can learn skills that we believe will be important for their future," Holmes said. "To get something like this off the ground is a unique opportunity. We've had a lot of positive feedback about the program from the parents who are becoming more active with the school."
Currently, the fourth- through sixth-grade students are working with Lego Robotics, and the kindergarten through third-grade students are experimenting with building with K-Nex components.
Next semester, six ASU engineering students will help implement a small-rocket launching program at Navajo, and STEM will expand its program into after-school and enrichment activities, family engineering science nights and field trips to ASU, Squires said.
Other projects include improving science "notebooking" techniques as well as bringing a meteorological station to the school from ASU's School of Sustainability.
Although the students are participating in a challenging curriculum, one of the biggest hurdles to sustain the STEM program is identifying funding sources, Holmes and Squires said.
The school and ASU are hoping to get grants from Science Foundation Arizona and Tempe-based Women in Philanthropy to help fund STEM projects, Holmes said.
"Navajo has made significant strides in pursuing a STEM-based curriculum at the school," Squires said
"We're creating a partnership with the district - they have an investment and we have an investment. The key is a hands-on approach. It's all part of a larger picture. We see it as becoming a model for other districts in Arizona and around the country."