By Doannie Tran, Ed.L.D.
Fulton County is committed to supporting students with mastering knowledge and skills required for college, career, and life readiness. Preparing students with knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is a critical part of being ready for the workforce of tomorrow.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that employment in STEM fields is growing at nearly twice the rate of non-STEM fields, and that the average STEM annual wage was nearly double the national average annual wage in 2016. The Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce has documented the growing divergence between available supply and existing demand of talent, particularly in technology and health care fields. Science and technology are also a critical part of our societys most pressing challenges and our most promising opportunities. By building their critical thinking skills through STEM content, Fulton County Schools (FCS) is committed to developing students into citizens who can solve problems and engage critical 21st century issues.
In order to systematically build these capacities in students, FCS has developed a strategy for supporting STEM learning in all schools. The schools in north Fulton provide coursework that builds STEM knowledge and skills through advanced placement (AP) and career, technical, and agricultural education (CTAE) pathways. They also provide clubs and programs that deepen STEM learning based on students passions and interests.
North Fulton offers diverse and rigorous STEM coursework at every school. Nine north Fulton high schools have been recognized as AP STEM Achievement Schools by the Georgia Department of Education. Schools with this distinction offer at least two AP math courses and two AP science courses, and at least 40% of students score a three or higher on these rigorous exams.
Three north Fulton schools Amana Academy, River Eves Elementary, and Woodland Elementary have received official STEM school certification by the Georgia Department of Education. These schools have demonstrated their commitment to STEM education through integration of STEM concepts across the curriculum, strategic business partnerships, and technology integration. The county will continue to support more schools to earn this honor and provide these kinds of experiences for students.
All high schools and middle schools in north Fulton offer CTAE pathways that allow students to achieve certification in high-demand fields. These pathways are comprised of sequential courses that use authentic learning experiences to prepare students for college, productive careers, or other rigorous post-secondary options. Schools across north Fulton provide access to pathways as diverse as architecture and construction, engineering, information technology, and health care science.
In addition to whole-school programming, FCS believes that students should have access to clubs and programs that allow them to explore their STEM interests and passions in more individualized ways. Science Olympiad is an example of one of these clubs. FCS hosted the second largest Science Olympiad regional qualifier in the state with 36 competing elementary schools this past March. Eight north Fulton elementary school teams advanced to the state competition.
FCS is also competitive in regional, state, and international science fairs, and many schools offer robotics programs as well. Nearly all north Fulton schools have staff trained in the Design Thinking process used at many startups, and have students participate in design competitions where they solve problems using this methodology.
FCS has pushed the boundary of how to provide access to diverse and rigorous programming in STEM. In order to continue this tradition of innovation, the Fulton County Board of Education initiated the development of a new school that would help the district reimagine the high school experience. Innovation Academy will open in downtown Alpharetta in August 2020, offering a comprehensive school model that will equip students with the skills to be the entrepreneurs, innovators, and designers of tomorrow.
The curriculum will encourage students to think across disciplines through design projects that Fulton County is developing in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology. Every student will complete a CTAE pathway in engineering, health care, or information technology. Through partnerships with local businesses, students will work on projects that solve real and relevant problems, so by their senior year, student teams can tackle an authentic industry problem and immediately add value to their community. Student teams will receive mentorship from faculty and industry experts to support development of collaborative skills, leadership, and workplace-relevant knowledge.
FCS offers cutting-edge STEM programming that supports students successes in the information age. With the innovation occurring across Fulton County Schools in STEM, schools will continue to support a thriving and vibrant north Fulton.