Aerial view of Spruce Elementary School

Spruce Elementary Has a New STEM Lab

It only took a little more than three months to transform an old storage room at Spruce into a new, hands-on learning space with 3D printers, virtual reality (VR) headsets, flexible seating, and mobile furniture.
Jason Brockmeyer, director of innovation, community, and special projects at South San Francisco Unified School District (SSFUSD), is still amazed. 
“By April, everything was rolling, and here we are mid-June—towards the end of June—and we have a brand-new STEM lab,” said Brockmeyer. 
New STEM lab at Spruce Elementary (after)
Back in March 2023, representatives from the Heart of America Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. that brings resources to elementary, middle, high schools, and community centers across the country, were looking to lavish some TLC on a school in South San Francisco.
“Most of our support comes from corporate and business partners,” said Heart of America Vice president of Innovation John Flynn, “so through the vehicle of turnkey volunteer service, we’re able to bring in some trade support through those grants made possible by those generous partners like AbbVie.” 
According to Flynn, the focus on South San Francisco was dictated by local pharmaceutical company AbbVie’s desire to fund a community service project that employees could participate in. 
“We do the heavy lift in advance, working closely with those general contractors and trades [such as Swinerton Construction, B.T. Mancini Flooring, J.T. and Sons Painting],” said John Flynn, Heart of America’s vice president of innovation. “We get the foundation laid, so that we’re able to then bring those almost 200 [AbbVie] volunteers in for two days of really concentrated and focused service.” 
The next step was to identify a school that could use a new, hands-on learning space.
That’s when Spruce Elementary entered the picture. 
“When we first came to visit and met with Angelica, the principal [of Spruce Elementary], we quickly learned that they have no 3D printers; and in terms of technology, they’re doing a lot with the little they have,” said Flynn, “so it was a no-brainer for us.”
Heart of America’s proposal was to take an old storage room at Spruce and turn it into a STEM lab in about three months’ time and at no cost to the school. 
New STEM lab at Spruce Elementary (before) New STEM lab at Spruce Elementary (before)
“I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was true,” said Spruce Elementary Principal Angelica Garduno Fletes. 
The proposal was also a no-brainer for SSFUSD, which understood that such an upgrade could help advance the district’s goal of implementing next generation science standards (NGSS) across its schools. 
“With hands-on learning, you just need a lot of space for students to move, which is really hard to find in classrooms, especially with elementary students,” said Brockmeyer, “so the idea was really allowing the space, so that kids could spread out, they could make a mess—floors that are easy to clean and just a great space for kids.”
The NGSS were developed in 2013 by a consortium of 26 states, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, and nonprofit organization Achieve.