“We consider this the highest honor for all the work our teachers have put into expanding our students’ thinking,” Clifton said. “Our STEM initiative has been a huge focus for them.”
Carrollton Elementary is one of few schools in Georgia to be certified in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.
“Very few schools in the state received this honor, and even fewer elementary schools received it,” Clifton said. “So we’re very proud of it.”
Helping the school reach its goal was Annette Murphy, director of Title I and federal programs for the city school system. Murphy said the school had to present a “wealth of artifacts” proving it was worthy of the distinction.
“We had six people from the state department visit in November,” Murphy said. “And they have a very detailed list of criteria they check for.”
The application process is pretty involved, Murphy said, with schools required to show that they exemplify the STEM mindset and vision.
Murphy said someone from the DOE will now come to CES to honor the school for receiving the certification.
“We’re hoping to get either (state Superintendent) Dr. (John) Barge or one of his deputies to come, and we’re hoping they can come to our STEM Showcase in February,” Murphy said.
The systemwide STEM Showcase is scheduled for Feb. 21.
The young age of the students in the school, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, presented a different challenge for CES than other schools with different grade levels.
“Since they aren’t as advanced in math and science classes, we have to change things up and make them applicable to them,” Clifton said. “We’re focused on teamwork and interpersonal communication, and how important they are to solve practical problems.”
President Barack Obama has made improving STEM education a national priority, and many states are trying to spur schools to bolster their programs. Georgia’s STEM certification program is one way of doing that.
Gilda Lyon, who directs the state’s STEM certification program, said that even schools with strong math and science programs might not meet the qualifications for certification.
“A lot of schools are doing real high-level math and science, but they don’t have any business partners or they don’t give the teachers time to plan together or the math and science is simply isolated,” Lyon said.
What she’s looking for is schools that show how the fields relate to one another.
“So that students understand that math is not just for math class — how many times have we heard kids say, this is not English, why do I need to learn English here?” Lyon said. “We want them to understand that math is a part of science and math is a tool for science teachers to help students become deeper learners.”
At CES, students are given design challenges and problems to consider and solve within constraints. The challenges are in line with the Common Core and Georgia Performance Standards, Clifton said.
As an example, Clifton said second-graders were given an assignment to learn about the effects of erosion.
“There was a sign at a local park saying the trees and other plants had been subject to heavy erosion,” Clifton said. “And the City Council asked for local people to come up with a plan to correct it.”
The second-graders were tasked with devising models and a plan to combat the erosion from the wind and the rain, Clifton said.
“The teachers have had to take the initiative to challenge such young kids,” the principal said.
The other three schools in the system have also applied for the certification, Murphy said.
“We hope for wonderful things for them as well,” she said.