TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - Students in the Wind & Oar Boat School at Merlo Station High School works on their projects while Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici looks on during a visit this week.

The boats that students are building at Merlo Station High School may be powered by wind and oars, but U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said such programs can help put the power of STEAM in education.

Advocates of STEAM want to place the arts on equal footing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics that have been the focus of so-called STEM education in recent years.

“This is a great example of why it’s important to have the creative aspect as well,” Bonamici said while visiting the Wind & Oar Boat School’s class at Merlo Station on Monday. “This is the next wave of STEM education.”

Two years ago, Bonamici co-founded the Congressional STEAM Caucus that advocates for integration of the arts into the curriculum.

She said the arts help spur creative thinking and also engage students in their educations even if they don’t think they’re good at math and science.

“With STEAM, we’re looking at reaching a large number of students,” she said. “We need to educate both halves of the brain.”

Boat-building, for example, attracts students with a flair for creating the artistic lines of a classic wooden boat and a love of working with their hands. But while they’re at it, they put to good use their mathematical lessons about angles and fractions.

“They also get a lot of hands-on math that’s applicable to other things as well,” said Peter Crim, director of Wind & Oar Boat School.

In fact, on student transcripts, the Wind & Oar Boat School — a Portland-based program that operates programs at Merlo Station and several other locations around the metropolitan area — turns into boat geometry and earns class members credits for both math and applied arts.

Bill Klatz, vice principal at Merlo Station, said the Wind & Oar team works with his staff to make sure the class meets curriculum standards. This is the third boat-building session at the school with more planned.

Bonamici said the tour also reinforced her support for expanding career technical programs in an era when many of the old high school shop classes have been discarded because they aren’t geared toward producing results on standardized testing.

At the same time, she said, as she tours various businesses in her congressional district, employers tell her “again and again and again” that they have trouble hiring skilled craftspeople.

“I don’t talk to many businesses that say they’re looking for good test-takers,” she said. “People don’t know how to build things anymore. As we’re seeing a resurgence in manufacturing, we need a workforce.”

Merlo Station junior Isaiah Thomas is on the same page.

“I really like that I get to work with my hands,” he said. “Most high schools, they don’t really have that anymore.”

Another junior, Hope DeGeorge, said the students also learn teamwork.

“It’s cool to have that experience,” she said. “We’re all helping each other out on everything.”

Read past Beaverton Valley Times coverage about Merlo's experiences with the boat-building program, including constructing and launching boats.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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