Nicholas Soler, left,  and Connor Strobl, both 10 and fifth-graders at Sanders Memorial Elementary, work on computers as other students behind them work on a project in a collaboration center at the school.

Tribune Staff
Published: September 20, 2015

Less than four weeks into the school year, Jayden Otero, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Sanders Memorial Elementary School, already had created a video game and website with a group of classmates.

Jayden’s group, known as “The Texperts,” even had sold five games, called “Child’s Playhouse.”

Jayden attended Connerton Elementary last year, but enrolled at Sanders Memorial, Pasco County’s first magnet school, through a lottery-style system.

“This school is more about technology, and it’s under the STEAM program,” he said.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

Originally built in 1948, Sanders closed in 2010 and its students moved to Connerton Elementary.

The campus since has gotten a $24 million makeover, and its architectural aesthetics mirror the school’s STEAM vision.

For example, ceiling tiles in “collaboration centers” — areas in individual units where students and teachers can work together — are purposefully missing, so that students can see the electrical wires and duct work.

Pressure valves and thermostats in mechanical areas normally shut behind heavy doors are visible through clear windows.

In the school’s Center for Design and Innovation, where the school’s inaugural book fair is being held, there are four flight simulators.

Kindergartners at Sanders use iPads.

It’s all part of what Principal Jason Petry referred to as “21st century learning.”

Inside Jayden Otero’s fourth- and fifth-grade collaboration center on Thursday, teacher Kerri Caro said the next project will focus on European settlers.

Petry smiled.

“She ties everything in with standards,” he said.

Elsewhere around the bustling center, students made posters and other items related to their studies of American Indian tribes.

Fifth-grader Anthony Rogers showed Petry a poster board presentation that depicted a boatload of wood floating down a river toward a wooden hut. The river and some grass were drawn onto the poster board, while the boat was made of spare wooden pieces from one of Anthony’s old games.

“How did you know to do that?” Petry asked Anthony.

“We went on Cherokee Facts For Kids, and that told us what they did, what games they played and their entertainment,” Anthony said, adding that the Cherokees were noted for playing a form of stickball.

“We started this last Friday,” he said. “It took awhile to put the hut together. We all put our ideas in.”

In another words, Anthony’s group collaborated, which is central to the STEAM theme.

Petry said that some students even made PowerPoint presentations and short movies about various tribes.

With the first month of school drawing to a close, enrollment at Sanders was at 724 students last week, down from an expected 762.

The lower number of students, Petry said, was a result of the school having 39 teachers instead of 40.

Although elementary students around the county are eligible to attend Sanders, most are from nearby Connerton Elementary and Oakstead Elementary, as those schools are overcrowded, Petry said.

Walking through the school, he nodded toward glassed-in classrooms. The walls are glass so that students can look out of their classroom to see what other students are doing in collaboration centers.

Much of the glass was covered by images, equations and writing in magic marker.

“Drawing on the glass is encouraged,” Petry said. “It’s like at Google or something.”

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