SANTA CLARA — The 49er’s have yet to play their first game this season, but their STEAM Education program has already kicked off.
The free K-8 program began in 2014 with the opening of Levi’s Stadium as a way to teach kids hands-on learning with a football twist. Bay Area teachers apply for a day at the stadium and pick a class from one of the five Common Core aligned themes of STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math.
“We came up with a general idea that uses the game of football and the stadium to get kids to open up to STEAM in a different way,” said program director Jesse Lovejoy.
The program — which operates weekdays over the course of the 180-day school year — started it’s annual run this week. At the stadium, students engage in physical fitness on the field, discover football history in the museum, look at structural engineering and sustainability during a tour and build team-projects in two technology-powered classrooms — all with a STEAM overlay. By the end of the day, students may have designed their own stadiums or football gear themselves.
“We hope that they make connections outside of the stadium,” said program manager Sofy Navarro. “On the bus on the way home, we hope they look at cars and buildings, asking questions about design, to start making those connections from what they learned in-class that day.”
Over half of the schools the program serves are designated as Title I or have a significant number of students on free or reduced lunches. Navarro said this is part of the program’s goal to serve students who would not otherwise be able to come to the stadium, offering buses provided by the 49ers to get students to-and-from the program for schools needing transportation for up to a 75-mile radius.
Although players are not incorporated into the program, video simulations offer scenes of players explaining projects and exercises.
“Some kids think learning isn’t cool,” said George Garcia, lead STEAM instructor for Santa Clara Unified School District, “but you tie it into something they enjoy or see on TV and all of a sudden kids sit up straighter in these classroom and almost forget you’re learning.”
49ers CEO Jed York and his family have been heavily involved in education. York’s parents, Denise DeBartolo York and Dr. John York pushed for an education program and museum in Levi’s Stadium, designing the education program for more than a year before the stadium opened.
But San Francisco 49ers President Al Guido said the 49ers started working on education more than 25 years ago — donating and collaborating with Bay Area education foundations. Guido said the program sprung from a desire to take care of all aspects of the learning process for schools from start to finish, becoming the first sports-team in the country to develop their own learning curriculum with a full-time staff in-house.
“We would love to not be the only ones doing this,” Guido said. “We would love to inspire other sports teams and if we could join the California sports teams together to get them to help in this youth education space, the impact would be outstanding.”
In the first year alone, the program served 30,000 kids. To meet the demand from schools, program directors decided to build a second classroom, allowing the stadium to serve 60,000 kids per year — 360 per day for more than 165 school-days. The program is at-capacity this year already, with over 200 schools on the wait-list.
Generally, the field trips to the stadium last from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and are open to K-8 students at schools throughout California, with Bay Area schools, in particular, encouraged to apply.
This year, the STEAM education program is rolling out Harry Edwards “Follow your Bliss” Award for teachers who have been through the program and shown not only a strong dedication to STEAM education, but also an advanced level of empathy for students. The award comes from Edwards, a leader in Silicon Valley education since he started teaching in 1965. The winner — announced at the end of December — will have a ceremony at Levi’s Stadium and receive a $5,000 stipend to be used in the classroom. Edwards will also return to speak to the entire teaching staff on how to improve education for every student.
“With social media and the internet releasing and updating information, the burden is on the teachers to arm young people with the ability to navigate that information to determine what is real and what is not,” Edwards said. “This program and this award seeks to reinforce that teachers who can do this with empathy for kids are doing a good job.”
Beyond kids, the 49ers education team offers a Professional Development Platform for teachers to learn more about STEAM education and a family learning series to inspire parents to help their children learn at home.
“We’re not just the 16 to 20 games we play on the field,” Guido said. “We have the ability to really impact kids of the Bay Area in this youth education space.”`