Contentnea-Savannah shows off its new STEM lab
Bryan C. Hanks
Kinston Free Press
November 14, 2012
The future of education is currently on display at Contentnea-Savannah K8 School.
It’s in the form of a shiny new STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — laboratory at the school. The lab, which has been operational for seventh and eighth grade students since the beginning of the school year, was primarily funded by a $350,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
“I like this class better than a regular one because we don’t have to take down notes and the homework is already on our computers when we get here,” seventh-grader Brandon Taylor, 13, said. “We get to go back and play games, and you don’t get to do that in a regular class.”
The children may think they’re “playing games,” but educators at the school said they’re learning at the same time.
“It’s all about student engagement; students are not going to be successful unless they’re engaged,” the school’s principal, Frances Herring, said. “When students know the importance of what they’re learning, they’ll take an interest in it. They do that in this center.”
The new center has 12 stations in the lab, which allows 24 students to work simultaneously; one is what Herring described as an “unsolved mysteries” station.
“They are given a murder case and they have to solve it using algebraic expressions and algebra concepts,” she said. “It takes real-life jobs they might be interested in and helps them realize, ‘If I want to do this, I have to know math and this is why.’ ”
Seventh grader Aaron Worley, 12, said he wants to study computer engineering in college, which helps him enjoy his time in the lab.
“It’s not just math, we get to interact with science and technology,” Worley said of the lab. “We get to work with sports and astronomy, so it’s not just math. It helps me understand how everything interacts.”
A press conference was held Wednesday to show off the lab and to introduce those responsible for its inception. Steve Hill, the executive director of STEM East, couldn’t stop smiling during or after Wednesday’s presser; he’s been one of the catalysts of the movement since its local inception in 2009.
“This is a true example of a grassroots effort,” Hill said. “It never ceases to amaze me that when people come here to visit from all over the nation, they are impressed at the working relationships we have with our communities and the ability we have to just walk in and make decisions in a short amount of time.”
Hill then nodded towards the lab and said, “This is what it looks like when the rubber hits the road. This is the actual, physical evidence of all the work we’ve done since early on.”
Kenny McNeil — a math teacher and technology facilitator at the school who is also a Kenan Fellow — has seen first-hand and on a daily basis the difference the lab is making in his students’ lives. During his portion of the press conference, he told attendees that some of his students have already taken 91 tests in the lab so far this school year — with nary a complaint.
“The hardest problem I have … is making those students leave the lab to go to their next class,” McNeil said. “This process happens so naturally, they don’t realize the work they are doing. Beyond the tests, though, they have started the hands-on modular rotation activities which incorporate all the testing and all the math skills into hands-on applications.”
Mark Sorrells, senior vice president of Golden LEAF, said the lab helps accomplish his organization’s mission.
“We were formed as the Golden LEAF Foundation to help rural, economically-impacted and tobacco-dependent counties to transition to more competitive economies,” he said. “This is the most important thing we can do, is to invest in our people.”
Sorrells said he and his Golden LEAF board recognized early on that if sixth, seventh and eighth grade students weren’t getting the math skills they needed, they’d struggle when they get to high school and college. He said Golden LEAF put together a STEM education study with Duke University and came up with a stunning revelation.
“Rural kids don’t have the same opportunities to participate in STEM education than kids in urban schools do,” Sorrells said. “We found out we have to prepare individuals, youth and adults, to prepare that pipeline for the workforce.”
Lenoir County Schools Superintendent Steve Mazingo, who said the STEM lab was an educator’s and superintendent’s dream, added the new center “grabs” students’ attention and keeps them engaged.
“As an old math and physics teacher, I can tell you the gateway to getting to those STEM jobs happens to be math in middle school and Algebra I,” Mazingo said. “To get kids to learn, they have to be engaged in the subject; they are a lot more engaged in the subject if they are dealing with real-life circumstances, problems and situations.”
The superintendent said Tuesday’s presser was also a beginning, of sorts.
“This is not the last time we’re going to celebrate the opening of a STEM center in Lenoir County,” Mazingo said.