While the textbook definition of STEM is “science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Adairsville Middle School Principal Tony Stanfill said the school's curriculum encompasses so much more.
Indeed, he said the entire program revolves around what he describes as “the five C’s.”
“Number one is the critical thinking,” Stanfill said at Thursday morning’s Eggs and Issues event at NorthPointe Church in Adairsville, which was sponsored by the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce. “I hear from so many of you guys that if you could just get kids to come to work, stay at work, think on their own, communicate with their coworkers and collaborate with their coworkers, we can do the rest.”
And heaven help employers if there’s a dispute in the workplace. “God forbid there be an argument,” he said, “they don’t know how to work it out.”
Addressing those inevitable business-world dilemmas, Stanfill said, is one of the linchpins of AMS’ STEM curriculum. While the students may be working on technical troubleshooting, he said those same skill sets can easily be transferred over to interpersonal matters.
“These aren’t artsy, cutesy projects, you must solve a problem,” he said. “And in that problem process, they do the engineering process where they run into an error and they redesign it.”
Which, naturally, segues to the second “C” of Stanfill’s STEM education framework — good old-fashioned collaboration.
And that, he said, doesn’t just benefit the students.
“It’s more important, probably, for the teachers,” he said. “Because they have got to collaborate with one another to be on the same page when we have these STEM walks.”
Conversely, Stanfill said the third “C,” communication, is an especially important piece for students.
“They’re never in a one-on-one project situation,” he said. “Most of these projects — whether it be building urban gardens or if they're on 'Minecraft,' trying to solve volume and so forth, computer design, essentially — they have to communicate with their peers.”
While the fourth “C” technically stands for “creativity,” Stanfill said it could just as easily stand for “culture shock,” since the approach taken in the STEM curriculum is so drastically different from “traditional” educational frameworks.
“You have to just say ‘Here’s the problem, fix it,’” he said. “And it drives some teachers crazy, because then comes a thousand questions … but we try not to answer any of those questions, and they figure it out.”
The fifth component, Stanfill said, is "community" — and without it, he said AMS’ STEM curriculum couldn’t be a success.
“Whether it be your time or your input, your financial whatever-it-is, the community in Adairsville is amazing,” he said. “Ultimately, I want our kids to stay here in Bartow County. I want them to graduate, get a successful job and be a successful worker in your business — that is my end-all goal.”
The AMS STEM curriculum, Stanfill said, is set to expand in the years ahead.
“This was a yearlong research project, it’s not something we just jumped right into,” he said. “It was a slow rollout with just sixth grade, this year it will be sixth and seventh — the third year will be sixth, seventh and eighth.”
Bruce Mulkey, principal of Adairsville High School, also spoke at the event. On the subject of STEM, he discussed plans for Adairsville High’s new magnet program, the Center for Advanced Science, Math and Technology Studies.
Along with Woodland High’s Center for Advanced Studies in Medical Sciences and Cass High’s Center for Advanced International Studies, the magnet program is expected to launch at the beginning of the 2020 school year.
“We have students in Bartow County who have talents that are above and beyond what we have typically offered in a high school setting,” he said. “These magnet programs are going to give these students opportunities and they’re going to be exposed to internships and research that are going to give them a competitive advantage, and they will compete with students across the nation for top spots in college.”
The programs, Mulkey continued, will represent the “most rigorous curriculum” available to the County’s high school students.
“When this program gets implemented, we will have multiple opportunities in our freshman and sophomore years to earn AP credit,” he said.
Mulkey brought up Bartow County Schools’ 87.1% graduation rate last year, which beats the statewide graduation rate by more than five percentage points. In 2019, he said he expects the graduation rate at Adairsville High to once again eclipse the 90% mark; the 2018 graduation rate was 91.2%, itself a 7% increase from 2017’s numbers.
“We had more students complete pathways, more college credit earned and more students demonstrated that they were college-ready through ACT and SAT scores,” Mulkey continued. “There was a 71% increase in the number of students that were enrolled and took AP exams last year, and we saw a 66% increase in the total number of exams — that is a big, big deal for a school our size.”
Last year he said increases in “all areas on proficient and distinguished scores in EOC Milestones and EOG Milestones" were recorded throughout the Bartow County School System. Elsewhere, he said educators are thrilled over the County’s “more competitive salary scale.” The preceding school year also saw increases in athletic and academic supplements, and something Mulkey said many people are excited about — a lower millage rate.
Yet one of the biggest factors to the system’s success, Mulkey said, is something a little less tangible — what he described as a “true alignment” from the school board down to the central office to the schools themselves.
“We can actually have a conversation with board members about instructional things, and they understand what we’re talking about,” he said, “and they understand how the decisions they’re making impact the kids in our classrooms.”