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Fernan STEM Academy turns 30

by CAROLYN BOSTICK
Staff Writer | May 15, 2024 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — During the first year of Fernan Elementary, painted ceramic tiles were added by students and teachers to make the building their own.

Teacher Angela Critchfield recalled, “We were just called Fernan. There was no STEM Academy. That family started 30 years ago.”

Three decades later, the tiles remain and are still a colorful focal point at Fernan STEM Academy in an area that now houses hydroponic equipment for projects.

On the grounds, the playground stands where a field used to be. The new “playground for all” includes accessible spaces for those with mobility impairments and a swing for wheelchair users.

In 2014, a garden was started to teach students about how plants grow. This year, two greenhouses were added to the grounds.

Community partnerships through the EXCEL Foundation and the Kiwanis Club have provided some of these new elements to the school.

In Fall 2024, 40 students who previously attended Borah Elementary will be folded into Fernan's elementary classes, joining the current classes of about 330 students.

At the end of the year, teachers Susie Brott, Marcy Canale, Deanna McDevitt and Angela Critchfield are all leaving. All of them have been at the school for over two decades. 

“It’s the Canale finale,” Canale joked. 

Critchfield has been there from the beginning, moving to Coeur d’Alene in 1993.

The school became STEM-certified last year. Teacher Melody Lund said the training has been worth it.

“There’s always supposed to be a problem to solve. It really has changed the dynamics of the entire program. The design process is that there’s a phase for the problem, imagine, plan and engineer/create,” Lund said.

“And then you do a retry,” Critchfield said.

“That goes round and round until you’re happy with the solution to the problem,” Lund said. 

Brott said that several years ago the teachers realized some of the learning styles of past generations weren’t as successful for the newer batch of students.

“People are pretty innovative here and decided there needed to be a different approach,” Brott said.

Brott credits a push from teachers and Principal Bill Rutherford to making the change to STEM possible.

Critchfield said students are better able to understand that mistakes are a necessary part of learning, and takes away pressure when something doesn’t go as planned.

“It's helped a lot of the kids that struggle in our resource department to learn that it’s OK,” McDevitt said.

From 5 to 7 p.m. May 30, Fernan is hosting a STEM-lympics event, which will also celebrate the school's 30th anniversary. There will also be a reunion for people who have attended Fernan. 

“For a lot of our kids, this is truly their home. I believe it’s a home to come here,” Critchfield said.



    The garden area at Fernan STEM academy was created in 2014. Left to right: Susie Brott, Angela Critchfield and Marcy Canale.
 
 


A photo of the first teaching staff at the elementary school when it was still Fernan Elementary. Row 1: Janet Galloway, Bonnie McEachern Row 2: Connie Wells, Shelly White, Judy Carlson, Teri Burch, Marty Meyer, Suzanne Behmer. Row 3: Jay Glover, Monika Swing, Lana Hamilton, Angela Mitchell, Barbara Crow, Cathy Rider, Michelle Snider, Jean Crampton. Row 4: Christy Owens, Joan Hill, Roxy Kelly, Nancy Ison, Lisa Phelan, Terry Wright, Kelly Sims, Jim Topp. Row 5: Marilyn Preston, Mary Jean Cabe, Polli Dixon, Linda Hannon, Lynn Ellen Terwillger, Bette Price, Julla Caldwell, Tom Figueroa, Patti Perry. Row 6: Rob Pullins, Jodi Wilson, Judy Bennett, Grae Smart, Linda Bennett, Mary Clarke, Raina Bohanek and Nancy Vallquette.


    Sandy Doering, Marcy Canale, Susie Brott and Angela Critchfield stand inside one of two new greenhouses for Fernan STEM Acadmy. The plan is for elementary students to learn about growing different plants in the greenhouse based on their age group.
 
 
    A scrapbook page from Fernan STEM Academy's history shows the tiled wall when it was new.
 
 
    A scrapbook spread of field trips from the early years of Fernan Elementary before the school became Fernan STEM Academy.