City Academy

City Academy president Don Danforth with students Zion Thomas, Romanis Hughes and Elle Prograis

To paraphrase one of modern-day's greatest innovators, Steve Jobs,  innovators need creative skills. In that vein, City Academy in St. Louis recently added art to the traditional STEM curriculum—creating STEAM.

In an effort to shape these creative innovators, the independent school has incorporated teachers of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics—across its pre-K through sixth grade levels. “Critical thought and problem-solving are enhanced when students and the future workforce are able to think creatively,” says Erik Taylor, science specialist and STEAM coordinator. “We want to develop critical thinkers, so they can bring these individual skills of critical thought to any field.”

Rather than general education teachers who lead multiple subjects, City Academy boasts teachers who specialize in one, and work to combine all of the STEAM disciplines. "The STEAM teachers meet weekly and continually communicate with one another about what each is working on in the classroom," says art specialist Julie Bugnitz. "Our enthusiasm for our own curriculum areas, our mutual respect for each other and appreciation for others' disciplines are key to our success." Throughout the curriculum, the teachers blur the lines between subjects so connections can be made across disciplines during in-depth, hands-on projects, Bugnitz explains. For example, art and math were combined in a recent project where students’ pieces were guided by geometric measurements. In another recent hands-on activity, students meshed their science and engineering skills to design, test and launch rockets.

Flexible schedules and small class sizes—ranging from 8 to 15 students—allow teachers to dedicate more time to each kid’s experiential learning. “We can be creative in terms of the way each school day is scheduled,” Taylor says. “In science, I may only see half of the third-graders for half of the week, which affords me the chance to go much deeper into the project.”

Through this innovative and creative approach to learning, City Academy hopes students will experience ‘affective transformation,’ Taylor notes. “We are finding those projects that not only supply content, but really provide that aha moment, because education not only needs to teach, it needs to inspire. Kids are only going to pursue career paths that they are challenged and inspired by.”

The school aims to develop problem-solvers, risk-takers and creative innovators through fostering skills that provoke a curious mind; an eagerness to learn and willingness to apply knowledge; and a desire to be resourceful, as well as think outside the box. This is what future secondary schools and employers are looking for, Taylor adds.

And the STEAM initiative is prepping City Academy graduates for attending top-tier independent secondary schools. Taylor says the school is excited to see students “getting a fire” for certain subjects that will further fuel their future schooling and careers. “Now when students are pursuing secondary schools, they are asking questions like: What are your math and science programs like?” Taylor says. “For a sixth-grader to say that, it really speaks volumes.”

City Academy has a diverse school population of about 160 students, who each receive scholarships based on family income and need.

ON THE COVER: City Academy recently launched the STEAM curriculum, which aims to shape, challenge and inspire the creative innovators of the next generation. For more information, call 382-0085 or visit

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