By Barbara Jacoby
The Cherokee County School District (CCSD), in keeping with its focus on preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow, is dedicated to enhancing STEM education.
Careers in STEM science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are on the rise internationally, with high demand for workers equipped with the knowledge and skills to fulfill them.
As part of a national effort to keep America at the forefront of STEM, in 2012, CCSD began a significant investment, supported by the Presidents Race to the Top initiative, in expanding its offerings. This investment included the opening of elementary school STEM academies and putting middle and high school programs under the microscope to determine additional needs.
Over the last eight years, CCSDs emphasis on STEM has continued to grow, leading to more opportunities for students and recognition for teachers and schools.
STEM learning is important to every student no matter his or her career plan, as all of us need the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and technology skills that this education encourages, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. Its exciting to walk into a classroom and see students so engaged in STEM whether its building a Lego robot and teaching it skills or developing a new doughnut through a design challenge sponsored by a local bakery. Its meaningful and memorable learning that can spark lifelong interests and career pathways.
Today, CCSD operates five elementary school STEM academies at Ball Ground, Clark Creek, Holly Springs, Knox, and R.M. Moore. The latter two academies are new for CCSD, following the consolidation of Canton Elementary, which was one of the original STEM academies.
These academies offer students not only core academics, arts, and physical education, but also STEM lessons integrated throughout their day as well as in stand-alone lab classes. Each Academy has its own unique attributes, often established through partnerships with local businesses and organizations, such as the aquaponics lab at R.M. Moore (funded by the Rotary Club of Canton) and the career exploration field trips by Ball Ground students to neighboring Awnex.
Clark Creek is a leader in STEM education, earning state certification (only the 11th school in Georgia to have done so at the time) and honors for the school and individual teachers. Holly Springs is internationally recognized for its use of instructional technology (one of its classes has even been featured in a Microsoft global advertising campaign).
The academies serve as incubators for STEM education. The lessons that teachers create are shared in a database for all CCSD educators, so they can increase STEM learning in every classroom.
New this year at the elementary school level is the Sprouting STEMs after-school program in nine schools. Each month, 200 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders engage in a one-hour, hands-on STEM lesson, led by high school student mentors. With each lesson, students collaborate to solve engineering design challenges and engage in scientific inquiry, including a STEM career spotlight.
CCSDs middle schools have stepped up their STEM offerings through the addition of high school credit courses and expanded STEM learning in the rotation of Connections career electives. A partnership with Georgia Techs CEISMC Center led to the early installation and use of 3-D printers, followed by a collaboration with the Atlanta Braves and its Science of Baseball program, which teaches students the math and science behind Americas favorite pastime.
New this school year, each CCSD middle school received a classroom set of SAM Labs Technology to support coding in STEM education, and this past spring, CCSD kicked off a pilot program with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to pilot problem-based learning lessons in eighth grade Connections classes like fire forensics investigation, green architectural design, and wearable technologies.
Students enter high school in CCSD with knowledge and experiences that place them ahead of their peers nationwide.
Over their four years or less given CCSDs nationally recognized opportunities to accelerate learning and graduate early high school students can fill their schedule with Advanced Placement (AP)classes to earn college credit, along with electives to earn industry certification in STEM fields such as health care science courses that include real-world experience through clinical rotations at Northside Hospital Cherokee.
CCSDs high schools prepare students to pursue STEM careers, whether they plan to enter the workforce immediately with industry certifications or to pursue additional certifications or degrees through the military, technical colleges, or universities.
CCSDs AP program has earned national recognition for its comprehensive course catalog and high passage rate, with every high school earning Georgia AP STEM and AP STEM Achievement honors. Additionally, Woodstock High School earned State STEM Certification for its accelerated learning opportunities, including university level research classes, and its partnerships with industries and higher education institutions.
Students interest in STEM also is shaping their extra-curricular choices, with growing participation in hands-on opportunities like robotics teams, competitions such as the annual statewide technology fair, and career-oriented groups like the Women in Science and Engineering Club.