Three Years In
Fairview Elementary School rests in High Point, North Carolina, as part of Guilford County Schools. It is a Title-1, K-5 school with an inspiring dedication to STEM education. A majority (95%) of the school’s 417 scholars are minority students. After being awarded the Innovative Partnership Grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction three years ago, Fairview has moved forward tenaciously with three major goals in mind. These are: to improve math and science proficiency in grades 3-5 whilst setting up a base for younger learners, to decrease chronic absenteeism with support from external partner EdDirection, and to reconnect scholars to community opportunities in STEM through the Woz Ed Career Pathways.
The school gained Woz Pathway Status this past year and, already, there have been notable changes happening in the classroom, at the administrative level, and in the community. Fairview challenges scholars to integrate the “Fairview 5 for Instruction” in daily classes which directly correlates to the collaborative nature of The Woz ED curriculum. The school has also employed a skilled team to evaluate Data and Multi-Tier System of Support PLC’s. This will help determine the effectiveness of the program to prepare scholars for future careers.
The goal is for families to learn about developing areas in High Point. Fairview is a prime example of working intentionally to meet goals and implement a program that prepares scholars for promising careers within their own community.
I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Fred Hoffmann, Fairview’s IPG Coach, along with two teachers who lead the after school drone program, Ms. Rachael Malatesta and Ms. Shannon Boone. These two have been major contributors to the success of STEM programs at Fairview. Shannon, with no prior STEM experience has learned quickly and finds Woz ED’s Drone Curriculum one that is easy to navigate. Rachael, who had a STEM focus in her masters program, was excited to enter a role that put her knowledge to use while also allowing her to continue learning.
The scholars at Fairview are thriving. The teachers have noticed more presence and ability to think in innovative ways amongst their scholars. Not only are they having fun, but they are learning essential skills that will serve them and their community in the future.
How Does it Work?
Fairview has its very own STEM teacher, Ms. Christian Sturgis, whom all K-5 scholars see once a week for forty-five minutes. With Sturgis, students use Woz ED kits in the STEM Lab. These include Engineering, Robotics, Coding, Animation, and 3D Printing. The media center at the school recently underwent a major upgrade. With the help of partner organizations, PowerUpEDU and MiEN Company, Smart TV’s, gaming systems, and several new 3D printers were installed.
The Level One and Level Two Woz ED Drone Kits are taught in the after school program led by Ms. Malatesta and Ms.Boone, with Malatesta heading grades K-2 and Boone leading grades 3-5. This happens once a week. Currently each teacher has about 15 students scholars that attend every week. That is a significant turn out for a program that is “optional.”
A Neighborhood School that Provides Exposure
Although there are quite a few schools in North Carolina that have magnet programs featuring STEM subjects, these are usually reserved for high schoolers. Fairview, as a neighborhood elementary school, aims to create a clear path for scholars so that when the time comes to choose their district school or magnet program, scholars and their families will be better equipped to make decisions.
The earlier scholars are exposed to STEM, the better. As with most things, having a solid base to grow from is important for young people. Fairview recognizes this. Teachers and administrators at Fairview understand that they are directly impacting the next generation of people who will innovate and make a difference in the world. This highlights the school’s vision:
“Enhance life outcomes and raise achievement for all scholars with Integrity, Excellence, and Teamwork.”
Right next to the school lies the international furniture market, a bustling industry in North Carolina. Fred tells me that there is a huge opportunity for scholars to graduate and get jobs in the industry, especially with the skills they are learning. With digital animation skills, graphic design skills, 3D printing skills, and more, scholars have a toolbox for success in opportunities offered by a variety of local employers. This way, scholars see that they don’t have to leave High Point in order to be successful. They can stay, contribute to a growing economy, make a living, and use their STEM knowledge daily.
A New Way of Thinking
Malatesta and Boone both agreed that the number one improvement that they’ve seen amongst their scholars is an ability to solve problems differently and a zest for learning. As Boone puts it,
“It introduces them to things they may never have learned without it.”
She loves that it gives her scholars a sense of responsibility, as it not only makes her job easier, but also gives them confidence.
Boone shares her experience growing up in a neighborhood similar to High Point. She has continued to dedicate her time specifically to Title I schools because she knows how integral it is for scholars to have someone they can count on and trust in school. She aims to be that person for her scholars.
Ms. Malatesta has had the privilege of watching the same group of scholars advance over the last two years as she moved from teaching first grade to teaching second grade this year. She told me,
“In the first year, my class didn’t have very many problem solving skills. When I got a class this year that had been going to STEM and talking about how to solve problems, how to create, how to revise, I felt like they were able to persevere more in the classroom.”
She has noticed that, in general, scholars are never staring blankly at her when she asks them questions. There is a spark in their eyes and they are more willing to participate. She tells me that she was recently reflecting on her job and realized what a privilege it is to watch her scholars grow each year right before her eyes.
The Power of Intention and Setting Goals
Fred’s enthusiasm shines through him. When I talked to him, I could clearly see that he is dedicated to reaching the goals set in place by the Innovative Partnership Grant. Of course, he can’t make it happen alone. He has noticed ample support from Fairview Principal Fanisha Fuller, Fairview staff, Guilford County Schools’ educational leaders, PowerUpEDU, and Woz ED. Plus, the plethora of community organizations, such as, Growing High Point, NC A&T Joint School of Nanotechnology & Nanoengineering, High Point University, Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum, BrickEd, and more. There is a collaborative spirit present around Fairview that is integral to the success of any program.
He has noticed that since starting the program, as the team has progressed forward intentionally towards their goals, more and more people have walked through the doors of Fairview looking to contribute to their STEM ecosystem. He uses the example of another grant that the school recently stumbled upon with the help of Guilford County Schools’ Science and STEM Director, Dr Janiese McKenzie. Guilford County Schools wrote a grant for various schools across the district to implement an after school robotics program. Unbeknownst to Fred, Fairview was on the list and was eligible for this grant. Fast forward and they have used the money for a robotics program, promotional materials to increase school exposure, t-shirts to demonstrate school pride, and stipends to teachers. I like the way Fred put it,
“Once all the stakeholders interact with it, understand it, and start to experience it, more opportunities are coming everybody’s way.”
STEM is a buzzword these days. It seems to be used interchangeably to represent different things in different places. Fairview is focussed on delving into STEM in a way that moves past the acronym and ties concepts to real world applications. Hoffmann, Malatesta, Boone, Sturgis and the whole of Fairview Elementary School are excited to see what is in store for their scholars in coming years.