On July 20, 1969, Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods was glued to the television when Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first lunar step. Woods was about the same age as the Rocky Branch Elementary students he spoke to Wednesday morning.
“You are preparing yourself to become the next Neil Armstrong,” he said minutes before presenting the school with a banner commemorating its recent STEM certification.
Rocky Branch Elementary is the first STEM-certified school in Oconee and is the 13th certified school in the state. STEM is an acronym representative of a blending of the following subject areas: science technology, engineering and mathematics. RBES teachers also use the acronym STEAM to include the arts, although STEAM is subject to its own certification standards.
Though many schools across Georgia have already implemented STEM programs within their schools, state certification involves an application, an exploratory visit by state officials and a final consultation with the state, all of which usually takes up to three years. RBES completed its STEM certification in a year and a half.
A state-certified STEM school affects the entire student population and “there are definitive differences in the coursework and instruction that occur…” according to a GDOE application. One of requirements is that students compete in competitions such as Science Olympiad and robotics clubs, said Wages.
Earlier this year, NOHS Principal Philip Brown, talked about the school’s STEM initiatives, despite the school not yet being certified. Once a month, about 30 students take a field trip to places such as Caterpillar, Smith Planning Group, the Georgia Tech Robotics Expo and the University of Georgia Engineering School.
“We believe in continuous improvement,” said Oconee Superintendent Jason Branch “We believe in never resting on past accomplishments.”
Last week at a student advisory council meeting, RBES Principal Evelyn Wages said that the highest paying jobs are in STEM professions.
“At your age the world is changing so rapidly that two or three years makes a difference,” Wages told a group of high-school students. “The world has changed so remarkably much in one lifetime.”
At RBES, students are learning research skills that will prove valuable in the future. Wages noted even custodians employed by Lockheed Martin make $100,000 because they are specialized in the equipment that they clean.
The benefits of STEM also extend to standardized testing, where students are more apt to make connections to hands-on projects over rote memorization.
From studying minerals to constructing feeding mechanisms for zoo animals, RBES uses STEM every day in the classroom. In the science classroom microscopes are hooked up to laptops.
At the assembly, students from each grade level shared examples of how STEM helps their community. For example, students will be selling plants grown in a school garden and the proceeds go toward feeding those in need.
One student of the high-school advisory panel asked if parents will feel as if their children are left out because they live outside the geographical zone for RBES.
Branch pointed out that state law allows students to transfer if they can provide their own transportation and if there is space available at the school.
Branch noted that Colham Ferry Elementary School is a year away from earning certification and other schools are considering applying.
Georgia's State School Superintendent
Richard Woods has over 25 years of pre-k through 12th grade experience in public education. > Read Full Bio