The Fulton & Alsbury Academy of Arts and Engineering is a public 6th-8th grade middle school in the Lancaster School District. Our rigorous course of study provides students a hands-on, real-world context to learning. In addition to the core curriculum, all students take an engineering class and an art class every day.
In engineering, students work collaboratively and use their creativity to solve problems, often for a client. For example, to learn about 3D modeling our 7th graders designed a display for five large brass Medal of Honor plaques at Edwards Air Force Base. They researched the topic, drew a sketch, drew a 3D model, 3D printed that model, made a video about their design, then wrote an essay about their design for the Air Force Flight Test Historical Foundation. Their design won a contest and will be built at the new Edwards museum to hold the real Medal of Honor plaques. Our students create Android apps, launch Estes model rockets, solder circuits on PCBs, use gel electrophoresis to analyze synthetic DNA to solve a mock crime, build and program robots, and design and test wind turbine blades, among other activities.
Our visual art class helps students feel they are competent producers of artwork. They learn the elements of art and principles of design, and they learn to create art in the style of various artists using a variety of media. Our teachers and students were featured on KPCC’s (Southern California Public Radio) education program for our integration of art into a STEM program.
Our school has received a number of distinctions, awards, and honors. We were named the “AV’s Best Public School” by readers of the Antelope Valley Press. We were selected as a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Distinguished School, an ERB Honor Roll School, and an Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon Think Big School. We have received a total of over $100,000 in grants from the Air Force Research Lab, Northrop Grumman, the Eleni & Wolfgang Gagon Trust, Verizon, and others. Two of our teachers have been named the Mojave Environmental Education Consortium (MEEC) Teacher of the Year for their work with environmental education, and two of our students were named MEEC Student of the Year. We’ve taken field trips to art museums, the local performing arts center, the Air Force base, to a Mojave company building spacecraft, and to the James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop in Redondo Beach, among many others.
Our robotics team won the VEX CA State Championship in 2016, leading them to compete in the VEX World Championships in Louisville. Our Science Olympiad team reached the state finals at Caltech in 2017 and 2018. Our Dance Force ballroom dance team is highly competitive.
Of our 415 students, 63% are Hispanic, 17% are African-American, 13% are White, and 4% are Filipino. We are a school-wide Title I school, and 82% of our students qualify for free or reduce-priced meals. Our core values are: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
Model Programs and Practices
Name of Model Program/Practice: Academy of Arts and Engineering
Length of Model Program/Practice: 2.5 years
Target Areas: Closing the Achievement Gap; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Use of Technology, Visual Arts
Target Populations: American Indian, Asian, Black or African American, Filipino, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, White, Two or More Races, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, English Learners, Students with Disabilities
Strategies Used: School Climate, Small Learning Communities, Parent Engagement, Data-Driven Decision Making, Health Support, Social/Emotional/Behavioral Support, Professional Development, Implementation of Academic Standards Basics (Teachers, Instructional Materials, Facilities)
Under the leadership of superintendent Dr. Michele Bowers, the focus of the Lancaster School District is “Options and Excellence,” with a lens of equity and achievement for all students. The district is located in what locals often call “Aerospace Valley,” where the space shuttles were built and where the sound barrier was first broken. Three elementary sites, Discovery Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, and Jack Northrop Elementary, offer engineering courses for K-5 students. Mariposa Elementary recently became a computer science magnet school. Nancy Cory boasts a strong and long-standing VAPA program, and the comprehensive middle schools offer outstanding choices for AVID, STEM, music, art, and foreign language electives.
In choosing an engineering curriculum to use for the academy Dr. Bowers brought together teachers and administrators from the Lancaster School District, the local high school district, and partners in the local business community. We wanted a program that would tie in well with the high school district and which would prepare students for the workforce. For example, schools expect students to collaborate well, but often those skills are not often taught or practiced explicitly, despite the high value in the workforce of the ability to collaborate and to speak in front of a group. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Gateway was ultimately chosen, and currently students take 9 engineering modules over their three years in the program, taught daily.
In like manner, district leadership consulted with The California Arts Project, the LA County Arts Commission, Lancaster’s Museum of Art and History (MOAH), and CalArts on a visual arts program, which led to a decision to focus on the elements of art and principles of design. Fulton & Alsbury’s goal is that students study and practice techniques that will enable them to become proud of their artwork, no matter their art background. Students are often surprised that with lessons and practice, they have grown into budding, confident artists.
Community partnerships have added value to the program. Due to the generosity of partners like Northrop Grumman, we sent engineering teachers Mr. Day and Mrs. Faber, along with students Clarissa, Matthew, and Naomi, to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL for an entire week, all expenses paid. Northrop Grumman has donated tens of thousands of dollars to support our 1:1 computer ratio, our state champion VEX robotics program, our Science Olympiad team, and for classroom engineering supplies. The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) donated funds for computers and a new makerspace, where students can tinker, build, and explore creatively. Verizon donated funds toward tablets that students use to create Android apps, and Lockheed Martin sends volunteers every year for engineering week. Local grants have enabled us to attend a number of events at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center each year.
Implementation and Monitoring
The school’s core values, selected by the staff, are: “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” Together with the goal of putting our learning into practice, the core values have influenced how we implement the engineering and art curricula. For example, in February 2019 our students met with Mr. Heckathorn from the Linda Verde Center, to collaborate with him on designing and 3D printing icons to be used as communication tools for students with severe disabilities. Because they are working for real clients, these wonderful students and their teachers, our students will not only learn 3D modeling skills, but responsibility and empathy as well.
While all of our students learn basic principles of coding, robotics, the construction of marble roller coasters, and a host of other engineering projects, our after school programs also reflect our engineering and arts focus. Students participate in a VEX robotics team, which in 2017 won the California state championships. The team captain that year, Valerie Castillo, appeared on ABC 7 News along with the team in a short piece about their win, and the following day a reporter from New York called to interview her, to highlight for her audience how a young Latina like Valerie, whose father had been a migrant farm worker, could accomplish amazing things. Valerie’s experience on the team later led to her being cast as a co-host of Discovery’s television show Mythbusters Jr.
Results and Outcomes
School climate surveys reveal a high level of school connectedness. Students often share that they miss being at school over breaks and even over the weekend. They stand out for their acceptance of the eccentricities of one another, a testament to the positive environment the staff has worked hard to develop and maintain. Our students report wanting to aspire to such careers as chemical engineer, roboticist, thoracic surgeon, anesthesiologist, congresswoman, and judge, among many others. Our goal is to show them a pathway to many exciting and well-paying career options, and to support them in a variety of passions.
When Kaedhyn reported she wanted to become a mechanical engineer so she could design better leg braces for people like her with spina bifida, we connected her with an aerospace engineer who brought her samples of composite materials she might consider using. When Jada said she wanted to be a judge, we connected her with a judge at the local courthouse. When Valerie said she wanted to become a member of congress, we connected her with US Congressman Steve Knight, who came to the school to have lunch with her and offer his advice. We attempt to take advantage of simple but powerful teaching opportunities, inside and outside of the classroom.
Visitors to the school often see what’s happening in classrooms and remark, “I wish I had this as a kid!” As a staff we are proud to have created such an environment, and the students are not only succeeding academically, they often talk about the school feeling like family.