STEM Program making strides in Macon County Schools

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Macon County School Board photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

The Macon County School Board met for its monthly session on Tuesday, Feb. 22, to discuss several issues.  STEM was at the front and center of the discussion. In a presentation given by Jennifer Love, Macon Schools STEM Coordinator, and K-12 Academically/Intellectually Gifted Coordinator,  several achievements were highlighted. 

STEM elective class educators serve 1,300 students in grades 5-8. Some of the areas of achievement were mentioned.
Craig Kurimay at Mountain View Intermediate School – 5th/6th teaches students about robotics in his Introduction to robotics class, through Sphero robots. He also teaches Introduction to computer science with code.org, STEM problem-solving activities/Project Based Learning, Curriculum connections through application of skills (motion/forces, astronomy, weather) and career and higher education connections.

Bryan Wilkinson another STEM elective teacher, at Macon Middle School 7th/8th teaches Development of robotics skills through EV3 robotics and Sphero, Introduction to Drones and Aviation, STEM problem-solving activities/Project Based Learning, Curriculum connections through application of skills (physical science, application of mathematics), Career and higher education connections with CTE emphasis.

 STEM-E is a WNC collaborative grant that has been funded through the Cherokee Preservation Foundation (CPF) for the past 7 years.  CPF will not fund the program after this school year.

“We are currently seeking funding/grants to continue this program,” said Love. “STEM-E Clubs continue at 10 of our schools. These funds are for county use plus additional funds for professional development, conferences, and clubs through WRESA (Western Region Education Service Alliance)  Virtual Conference for students held in the fall and another will be held this Spring 2021. STEM Technology Conference for teachers (Spring 2021),  Professional Development (Breakout EDU, Literacy in STEM, STEM to your Doorstep), SMART Tank competition currently being held virtually, and  Duke Science Kits will be used in April as part of the NC Science Festival at all elementary schools.” 

Some of the STEM initiatives through grant funding included, PARI (Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute) which is a former NASA facility that is now an active center for research and STEM education. Year five for this grant through NASA and SCC and has been renewed for an additional five years. This past summer, PARI provided summer activity kits, for students.  Grant money is also used for Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative for Middle and High School students. Astronomy curriculum kits with three activities each were provided to support 6th grade teachers with in-person or virtual instruction.  PARI will be helping with the future coding club for 5th – 8th grade and with the roll out of the NEW K-12 Computer Science Standards.  A onetime Dogwood Health Trust ION Grant (Immediate Opportunities and Needs) for $16,600 supported technology and updated robotics materials for 5th-8th grade STEM classes, purchased competition sets for Macon Bots Robotics Team (High School), and helped purchase eight grow towers for school garden programs.  In addition to Dogwood funds, these donors contributed to purchase the grow towers:  A private Go Fund Me donation, STEM-E Funds, Kids Garden Grant for $500, and a Franklin Daybreak Rotary donation.

 Some upcoming initiatives will include a Go Grant through NC Outdoor Heritage Council;  a onetime Kids in the Creek Event spread out over 5 days; SUTEP (School University Teacher Education Partnership) Grant through WCU (Western Carolina University); a Onetime Field Science/Biodiversity Day Event at South Macon Elementary; NC Solar Schools Grant, Installation of 5KWh panel, professional development and equipment.

 A summer camp program is being offered for AIG (Academically or Intellectually Gifted ) students, but if the 15 spots in the camp are not filled, it will open up to all other students. The Macon Youth Corps/YCC summer positions are for students age 16-18.  Applications are due March 1 and anyone with questions can contact Jennifer Love at  828-524-3314 Ext. 1015

 “I would like to say that none of these initiatives could be done without our amazing teachers. There are so many other wonderful things happening in our county related to STEM from South Macon, Mrs. Dryman’s STEM Geology experiments to Mrs. Painter’s Climate Change podcast challenge at MEC (Macon Early College)  to Mrs. Huscusson’s Boy Who Harnessed the Wind project at MVI (Mountain View Intermediate),” said Love.

School board chairman Jim Breedlove expressed his respect for Love. 

“I am humbled by your commitment,” he said.

Other business

No changes were made to the school’s weekly schedule during the meeting, but Dr Baldwin did note that the numbers of COVID cases are coming down. He also announced that beginning Feb. 24, teachers and staff will be eligible to get the COVID vaccine. He hopes to be able to get between 25 – 30 staff vaccinated, daily. 

Emily Ritter, Public Information Office with Macon County Public Health on Wednesday revealed a plan to vaccinate teachers.

“MCPH’s vaccination plan for teachers will be to use so called ‘Bonus Doses’ and the vaccines of cancelled or no-show appointments. In addition, we have ‘no shows’ from individuals that have received their vaccine from another location.  Towards the end of the day, we typically have 10-20 extra doses, depending on the number of vials we open that day and the number of no shows.  Obviously, we cannot guarantee the number of extra doses we will have in any given day.   Starting Feb. 24, we will begin using the extra doses to vaccinate school and childcare provider staff that want to receive the vaccine,” said Ritter. 

The School board approved a measure to increase substitute teacher pay for the remainder of the school year. A non-certified sub will see an increase of $19 per day and certified subs will receive an increase of $14 day bringing the daily salary to $100 day for non-certified and $120 for certified subs. This temporary increase was prompted by the shortage of substitutes needed due to the pandemic. 

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