One Valley native puts her energy toward fusing STEM and art education.
In many ways, schools aren’t what they used to be. Long gone are bake sales, peanut butter sandwiches, multiple recesses in a day, and art for everyone. Due to increased curriculum demands and decreased budgets (among other things), luxuries had to go. Rather than toil in the frustration of what was, one Valley educator chose to connect the dots and create a bright future for students through art.
It all started when Megan Epley realized things weren’t adding up — the opportunities she was afforded as a student were not the norm for her students today. Born and raised in Arizona, Epley is a graduate of Chaparral High School in the Scottsdale Unified School District. The “make-it-happen” and free-spirited professional recalls vibrant art programs and resources aplenty for extracurricular activities, so imagine how shocked she was to see the deterioration of such programs after graduating college and starting a career in the classroom.
Fast forward a few years, after part-time jobs and dipping her toes into the teaching world, the art history major saw a need to really infuse science, technology, engineering, and math into the art world. We’re not talking about doing one lesson, checking it off the list, and feeling like you’ve done your “STEAM” duty. Epley truly intertwines the subject matter to better captivate students and propel their understanding.
“I noticed students’ learning styles were different. There’s such a high demand to teach the standards and sometimes kids get behind because they have a different way of comprehending,” she explains. “Sometimes, teachers can’t slow down.
Fortunately, she found the time to do so.
“I started getting to know my students and making lessons more personalized. By incorporating art, students were visually retaining information,” she says. “When students create something, they’re able to take ownership because of the memory and experience.”
Cue stARTem, Epley’s Phoenix-based non-profit organization that improves student engagement and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) test scores through interactive art education. Founded in 2016, the organization has impacted more than 200, K-12 students in four Phoenix area schools. The stARTem curriculum meets Arizona state standards and incorporates research-driven principles outlined by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
What truly started as a passion project has become a business, non-profit, and education stimulant in less than two years. Thanks to SEED SPOT, a 501c3 nonprofit, Epley has cultivated the connections she needs to put her multilayered vision into motion. She travels to her contracted sites to teach art to students who might not otherwise have it.
“Thank goodness for technology, Gmail, and Google calendar,” she laughs. “No pun intended, it’s full steam ahead because there’s a lot of work to be done.”
While the soul behind the project is hers, she’s recruited a handful of women to help her along the way with teaching, social media, blogging, and more. She admits, “When you finally take the leap, you’ll be surprised how many people come out to support you.”
What’s next for stARTem? To name a few items on Epley’s list: a vitalized website, a STEM-film summer camp, professional learning for those in need of art-focused support, and online lessons plans. Epley has big dreams and even more energy to move her work across the state.
Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure — Epley’s courage to act as a trailblazer will forever impact students. And we’re sure they’ll be forever grateful.