By Michelle Price
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – Dr. Catherine Jones will highlight Prescott Elementary and its STEM program as one of the leaders for the 2018-2019 cohort for the Innovative Leaders Institute. Prescott Elementary was chosen as the only elementary school to be showcased based on their active partnership with the Tennessee Stem Innovation Network (TSIN) and their receipt of the Tennessee STEM School Designation.
Since TSIN director, Sandy Watkins, has been to Prescott Elementary School (PES) campus several times and has interacted with Dr. Jones and her staff through various experiences, it didn’t come as a surprise when Watkins asked PES to be the sole elementary campus visit.
Twenty people from across the state will meet at PES on Sept. 19 to spend one full day learning from the best practices developed there. PES’s focus on STEM was sparked by a 2012 grant for STEM platform campuses.
“It’s a new way of looking at education,” explained Jones. “Trying to not just do the reading writing and arithmetic but to get science in there and thinking. Thinking and problem solving is the goal.”
In 2017 PES applied for the Tennessee STEM School Designation. It was awarded one of only 15 designations state-wide. These 15 schools were recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education for their use of STEM teaching and learning strategies and will serve as a model from which other schools may visit and learn.
“In my recent research, in just the last five years, the top 10 job skills in demand have changed. That’s just an elementary career when you think K-4. Then you go to middle school and then high school. We’ve got two more changes,” explained Jones. “We’re trying to prepare kids and we don’t know the skills they are going to need when they get out. We’ve got to teach them to be thinkers and problem solvers so that they can take what they have and work with what they have, not memorizing a series of math steps.
“You have to gather what you have and try to solve the problem within the constraints that you have, so we give them constraints because some of our constraints are time, materials, etc. If you are in the manufacturing or business world, it’s the budget, time and materials available, so everybody has constraints within your job.”
Since STEM is such a buzzword, what makes PES’s program different? The answer is in the faculty.
“Our STEM program is unique because we have developed it ourselves” added Jones. “We knew that the initial grant money was going away so it was on me to make it sustainable. The challenge I took on was, one, how to keep it affordable and, two, how to keep it sustainable.”
PES partners with local businesses to accomplish this. Children in each grade pick a career focus each year. Local businesses visit the school and share with the students just what that career really involves. No money is involved, just partnerships.
This school year the kindergarten class chose architecture, first grade chose agriculture, second grade chose medical/health professions, third grade chose technology and fourth grade chose engineering.
PES remains an active partner with TSIN.
“I’ve made an effort to remain active because I feel like, I believe in the stem education so much and career focus at an early age, I just think it’s so important,” said Jones. “And our campus has developed it. Our teachers are aligned. We have lots of little extras that we integrate throughout each year.”
Various activities revolving around the career paths take place throughout the year. PES hosts career day on Halloween asking students to dress as their chosen career. Curious STEM Inventory night is held the Friday before Thanksgiving each year and in March it is Legos and Literacy.
“We try to make it new and fresh every year,” explained Jones. “I believe that we are successful, but I don’t believe that there’s a there,” said Jones. “We’re always trying to improve. What can we do differently? How can we make this more powerful?”
“To receive Tennessee STEM School Designation, schools must complete a rubric with certain attributes,” said Jones, who is eager to share the program’s success. “PES will show these teams what the attributes can look like in an elementary school and how to make them successful.”
The Innovative Leaders Institute is a year-long professional learning opportunity designed to train highly effective principals, assistant principals, and school leaders to infuse a STEM culture in their school through innovative leadership and instructional strategies.