Full STEAMM Ahead

The Center for Dynamic Learning uses performing arts and manufacturing to enrich area schools


The STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – are a hot topic in education. But the Center for Dynamic Learning (CDL) in Providence takes a broader perspective with its emphasis on STEAMM, which expands STEM to include arts and manufacturing. CDL is the successor to the Traveling Theatre group, a youth arts organization founded by Beth Cunha and her husband Kevin in 2003.

Their goal was to create a community of teaching artists who visited schools to simultaneously provide arts enrichment programs and cultivate the artists’ crafts. That effort struggled because funders and community members didn’t understand that arts and sciences work hand in hand, she maintains. In 2011, the organization changed its name to CDL and rounded out its programs to reach more students. The new focus paid off, says Cunha: “We gained more traction in six months than I had in all the years of doing the work I did as Traveling Theatre.”

CDL, an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, has working relationships with multiple schools and districts but is not formally affiliated with any school system. It’s a small organization, with four full-time staff supplemented by part-time staff and volunteers. Nonetheless, CDL offers a broad range of before-school, in-school, or after-school programs with a focus on theater and manufacturing. Depending on partnerships and funding, the program serves between 800 to 1,200 youth annually, and during the coming school year, the group will run several student-theater productions.

On the technical education side, CDL recently wrapped up its Teen Apprentice Program (TAP) summer course, in which students earned college credits from Roger Williams University. CDL’s manufacturing suite of courses, including mechanical fabrication and creative design engineering – among other subjects – also provide college credits and certifications.

CDL currently rents office space from the Boys and Girls Club in Providence and uses the Metropolitan Career & Technical School’s performance space. Cunha hopes to have a permanent facility and performance production space, but she admits that growing a nonprofit on a tight budget is a challenge. A $285,000 grant recently awarded jointly to CDL and the Asa Messer school for the 2018 to 2019 academic year will help, she notes: “It is specifically for the Asa Messer school and to bring full-spectrum STEAMM education to the school with a focus on coding, robotics and performing arts and career pathways.” Full STEAMM ahead.