Dr. John Barge told the assembly that other schools will eventually receive STEM certification from the state Department of Education, but the Marietta school distinguished itself enough in the application process to be the first.
“We’re probably going to send folks to visit you, saying ‘You want to be a STEM school? Go check out the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics because they’re the first. They’re on the cutting edge, and they’re doing an outstanding job,” Barge said before presenting principal Jennifer Hernandez with a banner commemorating the occasion.
The designation means that MCAA, which serves third through fifth graders, is on the forefront of the movement to address the need for better education in STEM subjects, Marietta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck said. The school will continue to “push the envelope” to provide more opportunities for its students.
“I think the school would continue to evolve regardless of whether they receive the recognition or not,” she said. “However it will allow the school to be a place where other school districts in Georgia and throughout the nation can look to for best practices in STEM education.”
Since it opened in 2005, MCAA has focused on helping students learn critical, creative and collaborative thinking, Hernandez said.
“These are the 21st century skills our kids are going to need to be part of a viable workforce,” she said.
Hernandez said she first heard about the STEM certification program in July 2011, when Gilda Lyon, the state’s STEM director, told two of the 270-student school’s teachers about it while they were taking STEM professional development training in Atlanta.
From there, the school applied for the certification. Hernandez said the four-month process required the school to show exemplary standardized test scores, a learning plan over the past three years and community partnerships that enhance the school’s programs. State officials, with expertise in each of the STEM subjects, also came to tour the campus, located at 311 Aviation Road, off South Marietta Parkway in Marietta.
The STEM certification will attract more students to the school, which already has parents camping out all night for its available out-of-district spots for students, Hernandez said.
“For us, it’s about letting people know that we’re here,” she said. “We see it as an opportunity to lead the charge in STEM education.”
Zain Darvesh, 10, said his fourth-grade class allows him to take part in projects like one that involved writing a poem about Mars, then combining the poem with a paper-mache model of the Red Planet.
“In my old school, there wasn’t any STEM,” he said of his former class in Doraville. “We didn’t really do really challenging stuff. It’s more challenging here.”
Fifth-grader Junmoke James, 10, said she loves how MCAA incorporates technology into its lessons.
“If you have an opportunity to go to this school, you should really take it,” she said. “You’ll meet a lot of great teachers and people, and the kids are really nice too.”
Also Thursday, Hernandez announced three new Partners in Education for MCAA. Representatives from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, the American Society of Civil Engineers and Southern Polytechnic State University were on-hand to pledge support to the school.
Hernandez said the partners would send people to participate in the Engineers in Classrooms event today, as well as Marietta City Schools’ Engineering Design Expo next month. To celebrate the occasion, she presented the partners with blueberry, peach and apple pies.
Shan Cooper, Lockheed vice president and Marietta plant general manager, told the students they could someday build and design airplanes for her, which caused excitement around the gymnasium.
“This is my future workforce here today,” she said. “We’re going to start developing early, piquing their interest and getting them ready.”
State officials acknowledged that more needs to be done to get students interested in STEM subjects. But they see districts becoming more involved.
“I bet I have 10 school systems right now that are having conversations with me,” she said. “They want to know how they can get STEM programs in elementary school.”
Next month, Marietta’s STEM magnet students in third through eighth grade and students at Cobb’s Wheeler and McEachern high schools will show off projects they’ve done in the second annual Engineering Design Expo.
The event, which is open to the public, will be on Sunday, April 29 from 2 to 4 p.m. at SPSU’s gymnasium. The expo “will showcase hands-on and minds-on engineering design challenges, digital research projects, artwork and more,” according to the announcement.