When the 2014 graduates at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville and Stratford STEM Magnet High School in Nashville walked across the stage and received their diplomas, it marked another important step along their path to a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Amid the camera flashes from a sea of beaming parents, these students stand out not only for their academic achievements, but also as trailblazers.
As the first class to graduate from a TN STEM platform school, these students courageously walked through the doors four years ago to a new way of learning. They would be challenged at every turn to not only ask ‘why’, but ‘how’. Their education would be steeped in creative problem solving to real-life issues, academic rigor through advanced courses in mathematics and science, and fluency in technology.
Their parents, seeking a different educational experience for their children, entrusted their children’s schooling to a new way to teaching and learning that was still developing. Based on the belief that a STEM education can benefit every student, not just those planning to pursue a STEM career, these schools are arming students with 21st century skills in advanced problem solving and innovation that will benefit them in whatever career they chose.
The journey has been remarkable. These schools have earned a reputation for their approach to education, which weaves STEM throughout the curriculum. Students spend much of the day in project-based learning that spans traditional courses and utilizes the latest technology in a 1:1 student ratio.
Gone are the days of desks in a row and seemingly endless rote memorization. Students at STEM schools get hands-on in labs where they create and produce designs utilizing 3-D printers or work on collaborative projects utilizing their math and science skills to study water shed maintenance and ecology with engineering professionals who volunteer hundreds of hours to mentor students and provide guidance on STEM careers.
Stratford’s commitment to project-based learning led to plans for a $20 million renovation especially designed for STEM learning. Scheduled to be complete in 2016, the renovation will provide students with larger learning spaces equipped for the latest technology.
This approach to education is paying off, really paying off. Students who are engaged in their learning stay in school. Absences are down at both schools. Teachers remark that students are excited to be at school and are achieving more. At L&N STEM Academy, the school has an impressive 100% graduation rate. 95% of students are headed to a four-year university, two-year college, or the military. The 2014 graduates from both schools earned over $6.5 million in scholarships.
Through funding from Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network partnered with these public schools and others across the state to become STEM platform schools and encourage new approaches to education. District administrators and principals are participating in leadership development specialized for STEM schools. Regional hubs are offering intensive professional development throughout the year. Hundreds of teachers are participating in externships with STEM based industries to learn which skills their students will need to succeed in the 21st century workplace.
As the STEM school model grows, TSIN is ready to partner with local communities to share new teaching and learning models throughout the state.
We celebrate the Class of 2014 STEM students. Their future is our future and it never looked more promising.