A School in the Mountains
Located at an altitude of 7,500 feet in the mountains of Arizona just outside of PineTop and inside the Apache Indian Reservation, McNary K-12 School stands among the pines. The school reached B-School status this year after putting a solid amount of time, money, and energy into areas like STEM education over the last few years.
The partnership between McNary Elementary and Woz ED began eight years ago, when McNary’s current Superintendent, Gregory Fowler met Woz ED team member Meghan Miller at an event in Phoenix. Fowler told me that he immediately saw the value in what Woz ED was offering and was even more excited to find that Woz Team members, like Meghan, continue to be honest and supportive throughout the process.
Mr. Fowler, an educator for almost thirty four years, has taught every grade level and done administrative work for elementary, secondary, and intermediate schools. He knows the name of the game, has witnessed the rise and fall of educational trends, and has learned the importance of preparing students for the future in engaging ways. STEM Education has stood out as a sure fire way to get children excited about coming to school and that is half the battle.
The Way It’s Done
McNary has had a few years to hone in their approach to STEM programming. They have settled on an effective model that motivates the students to show up for school and participate in their general education courses with the knowledge that if they can do this, they will make it to the afternoon where they can tinker with robots and drones, use animation software, or learn how to code.
Each student from grades kindergarten to twelve has specials that start at 1:00pm, taught by their general education teachers who work tirelessly to learn new materials and teach their students in a well-rounded way. Many of these specials include the use of Woz ED STEM Kits. The school uses almost every available Woz Pathway. Robotics, animation, artificial intelligence, coding, mobile app development, and drones are the most loved. What this means is that students are exposed to STEM concepts for 30-45 minutes DAILY. That daily exposure is what truly makes a difference. As we all know, repetition is what solidifies skill sets.
Last year, a group of McNary 6-8th graders participated in a state-wide Robotics competition where they were invited to Nationals. Only a few schools out of over one hundred schools throughout Arizona that participated were asked to Nationals, which took place in Phoenix.
They are returning this year in just a few short weeks. The students are excited to showcase all of the new skills they’ve learned this year and utilize them in order to build innovative robots and make their ideas a reality.
Mr. Fowler shared his desire to create more opportunities for his students to participate in local and state events like this one. He has loved seeing the drive and passion these students have for creating and collaborating. Being a part of friendly competitions and meeting new people is an excellent way for McNary students to broaden their horizons and see what exists for them beyond school hallways.
Moving Past the Divots in the Road
McNary operates on a delicate balance between meeting the needs of the reservation, as well as meeting state-wide educational expectations. This brings its own set of challenges for administrators.
Mr. Fowler shared with me how he feels that they have been fortunate in receiving support from both the state and the reservation leaders when it comes to STEM programming. He understands that not everyone has the support and resources to buy STEM materials and begin new programs. He is grateful for this as he has seen the effects of STEM on the academic and social success of his students.
These students, after all, are the reason that these extra challenges don’t seem to get in the way of the school’s dedication to overcoming obstacles and providing opportunities for them to excel in and out of the classroom. He says,
“I want to make sure that our kids are getting everything possible to be competitive in today’s job market, plus, I love seeing the kids everyday doing the things they love to do.”
This is the crux of STEM Education, preparing kids for their futures while allowing them space to have fun and explore.