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Why the arts are as important as STEM in early education

Mar 17, 2015

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Recently, industrial designer Jeff DeBoer wrote an essay for The Next Idea raising the idea of making Michigan "the design Mecca of the world."

And he believes the key to that is to make art as important as the science, technology, engineering and math classes currently occupying much of the nation's attention.

As vice president and principal owner of Sundberg-Ferar, an 81-year-old design and innovation firm based in metro Detroit, as well as the Michigan Design Council, DeBoer has a stake in making sure students are prepared to produce not only functional products, but creative ones.

"I think that's one of the missions of the Design Council, is to not only attract design talent to the state, but to retain the talent here," said DeBoer.

Roosevelt Elementary in West Bloomfield has begun to implement STEAM programs, that focus not only on science, technology, engineering and math, but the arts as well.

Principal Art Ebert says the STEAM programs are a way to allow kids to pursue their curiosity and to experiment.

Ebert says the school plans to partner with professionals in various fields for project-based learning so students can apply the skills they're taught. Roosevelt will be home to a design lab full of tools, including a 3-D printer, for students to get hands-on experience. And activities such as a school-wide math problem every month will be implemented.

In order to enssure that Roosevelt students' opportunities continue through their education, Ebert says the district's sixth grade will be integrating further STEAM pathways, along with the already existing engineering lab at the high school.

DeBoer recently met with Governor Snyder at the launch of the Design Council, and he says Snyder showed interest in incorporating more arts and creativity in early education.

"As we've been learning doing our research recently, we already have more industrial designers in Michigan than any other state in the country. Over 4,000 by last count, and estimates are that every one of those design jobs creates eight additional jobs," DeBoer says.

Both DeBoer and Ebert hope STEAM could begin to be incorporated throughout the state, and Ebert believes it takes little funding, along with the passion and the support of the staff and community partners.

"My hope is that as more kids pursue creative careers they're going to stay here, they're going to help grow the economy, they're going to have rich, fantastic careers and lives, they'll grow their families here and hopefully attract more folks to the state," DeBoer says.