“The STEM Academy provides one-on-one technology for students in each STEM class, access to Google Classroom, interdisciplinary defined STEM curriculum, and PLTW curricula and instructional supplies.” — Beth DeLoach, VMS Principal
Creating an environment that excites students about increasing their knowledge in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is the vision of the Valdosta Middle School (VMS) STEM Academy.
In August, VMS teachers saw the results of several years of planning come to realization with the opening of the school’s STEM Academy. With an enrollment of 102 sixth-graders, students receive STEM-related instruction within every content area (English, social studies, and language arts) in addition to an accelerated curriculum in math and science.
When the students leave VMS as eighth-graders, they will have earned one high school credit in math and one credit in science.
The VMS STEM Academy is using curriculum developed by Project Lead the Way (PLTW), the nation’s leading provider of K-12 STEM programs. Under the PLTW curriculum, students engage in solving problems related to real-world challenges. The curriculum includes foundational units focused on design and modeling and automation and robotics, as well as specialized classes in space exploration, energy and the environment, computer science, health care, architecture, and technology.
“VMS and Valdosta City Schools district staff researched, participated in STEM conferences, visited schools across the state, and dreamed big over the past three years to develop ideas that have now been brought to fruition with the generous support of our community,” said VMS Principal Beth DeLoach. “The STEM Academy provides one-on-one technology for students in each STEM class, access to Google Classroom, interdisciplinary defined STEM curriculum, and PLTW curricula and instructional supplies.”
Having community support is an important part of the STEM Academy’s continued success. VMS is working toward STEM certification, which is administered by the Georgia Department of Education and takes at least three school years to complete. The certification process requires schools to focus not only on STEM curricular opportunities but also on teacher professional learning, lab facilities, and community partnerships.
With a generous financial donation from the Harley Langdale Jr. Foundation, VMS was able to retrofit a large classroom into a specially designed STEM lab.
“The Langdale gift began with a belief in the Valdosta Middle School STEM Academy’s vision to provide students with a rigorous, relevant curriculum of academic study that will advance their knowledge in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math,” said DeLoach, “thus empowering them to become college and career-ready and prepared to work in the 21st century.”
DeLoach said the STEM Academy has also received funding from CJB Industries, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), PLTW, the Valdosta City Schools Foundation, and parent donors.
The response from students, parents, and the community has been positive, and VMS exceeded its applicant goal for the first year.
“VMS STEM Academy teachers have worked hard to plan interdisciplinary instructional opportunities to support STEM practices, skills, and awareness,” said Dr. Alex Alvarez, director of STEM and Curriculum with Valdosta City Schools. “We plan to build community partnerships and STEM awareness through our students’ and teachers’ efforts while being a part of the STEM Academy. I am sure new ideas and opportunities for the entire district will come from these efforts.”
With grant funds provided by PLTW and the GOSA, Valdosta City Schools is implementing PLTW curriculum in each of its elementary and middle schools this year as a way to expose more students to STEM education and careers.
This summer, J.L. Newbern Middle School retrofitted two classrooms into a STEM lab to host electives for students in grades sixth through eighth. A portion of the funds from the Harley Langdale Jr. Foundation were used to support classroom supplies. Valdosta City Schools updated and added additional computers to support the PLTW engineering software for the design and modeling coursework.
Once students move to Valdosta High School, there will be a multitude of STEM-related courses and opportunities available.
“We plan to explore additional computer science offerings and to work with students to develop a program of study to support his or her interests related to STEM,” Alvarez said. “Valdosta High School competes in VEX Robotics competitions and offers students specialty science, math, CTAE (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education), and Move on When Ready courses.”
Valdosta City Schools hosts several STEM-related competitions and events throughout the year and works closely with Valdosta State University’s STEM faculty to incorporate hands-on learning and projects.
“Valdosta City Schools is excited to expand STEM opportunities for students and plans to work with community partners to continue to grow STEM initiatives,” Alvarez said.