Oak Creek School builds intergenerational relationships

Retired teacher runs Cornville school’s engineering program

CORNVILLE – At Oak Creek School in Cornville, intergenerational learning isn’t just a buzzword.

They call her Grandma Sue, this retired educator from Connecticut who not only picked up and moved her life to the Verde Valley this past year, but she also brought with her one fine tool kit of sorts, one that the school has labeled The Engineering Room.

Christine Griffin, the principal at Oak Creek School, couldn’t be happier that Sue Brown volunteers at her school.

“She had a program and a vision that she wanted to share and a place to call home,” Griffin says. “All I had to do was say ‘Yes.’ And she, being the powerhouse that she is, did all the rest.”

Building relationships

Life is all about relationships, says Brown.

Once upon a time, Brown – then a science teacher – was asked to create a program she now sees as a resource for STEM education. Brown says she’s teaching her near-250 “grandkids” how to become engineers.

“I run the program as a business model, working on projects to make the world a better place. Children will have experiential learning where they can use science, math, technology and engineering – and the arts – and it comes through building and design,” Brown says. “That’s the core.”

Brown meets with each of the classes for an hour each week, and students are able to build some rather remarkable things with Lego, which she says “is just a small part of it.”

“I want them to know that each of them is valuable, precious and smart.” says Brown.

According to Brown, her program isn’t just to create engineers. It’s to create obsolescence – hers.

“I see the big picture in what’s needed,” Brown says. “My goal is for teachers to be trained, to be self-sufficient in this without me, so when I’m 80, maybe I won’t do this. So I can step back and it can run on its own.”

Hands-on learning

Christine Griffin says that her students “love their time” in the Engineering Room. That love of hands-on learning, she says, manifests itself in other classes.

“Many students who struggle in the general classroom setting seem to shine when faced with an engineering challenge,” Griffin says. “It is fantastic to watch groups of students problem solve together and come up with different possible solutions.”

Griffin also says she would like to see the school’s engineering program be used by other Verde Valley schools.

“We want this to be a community engineering room where students and teachers alike come to stretch their brains a bit,” Griffin says.

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