As schools prepare for a challenging back-to-school season due to the coronavirus pandemic, a brand new, state of the art STEAM-focused elementary school in southern Indiana is welcoming students for the very first time.

Franklin Square Elementary in downtown Jeffersonville will act as a pilot school for launching Project Lead the Way curriculum in addition to a partnership with the Jeffersonville NoCo Arts and Cultural District.

The two partnerships will create a STEAM model at the school, teaching children as young as 5 about science, technology, engineering, art and math.

There’s a shortage of students interested in STEM and STEAM programs, according to Greater Clark County Schools Superintendent Mark Laughner, and he hopes that introducing them to students at a young age will encourage them to pursue the curriculum as they get older.

“We want to make sure our students get some really great experiences so that when they go to middle and high school, they stay interested,” Laughner said in a video posted on the district’s YouTube channel.

The school, which opened to students on July 29, features a large slide in the foyer, an “amazing” playground as well as “beautiful and clean” classrooms.

“I’m excited for the new technology,” says first grade teacher Katie Williams. “I love to learn new ways to teach and this is another one. This is going to be a wonderful experience for me, too.”

Principal Virenda Cunningham-Lester describes Franklin Square as a “kid-friendly” student-oriented school. She says students chose the name of the school, the school colors and mascot.

“It is student-oriented,” she said. “We’re just adding another piece to the community education. And we intend to stay.”

Project Manager Chad Schenk says the school has a capacity of 550 students. With the students pulled in from other schools, there are still more than 225 openings.

“We’d love to have a full capacity building in a couple year’s time,” he says.