Next Generation Academy: Chartering a Vision

Next Generation Academy is a charter school located in Greensborough, North Carolina. It was established five years ago by Sam and Pam Misher, a couple who were both former teachers and administrators. Their primary objective in founding the school was to offer students an innovative education that would have positive effects on the wider community. They aimed to cater to students who may not have access to transportation, school lunch, technology, and career development opportunities.

Shortly after their start, Sam and Pam Misher began the journey to build up a robust STEM program at their charter school, understanding that this would serve as a catapult for their students into the future and give them a leg up in their professional development process. Their first step was to hire a versatile teacher capable of handling multiple responsibilities.

The man for the job was Mr. Haywood Stukes, a former high school teacher who is passionate about giving back to the young people of his community, and found an ability to do so in this role. Mr. Stukes has been a champion in learning new skills, from shifting gears to teach younger students to mastering new technology. 

PowerUp’s Role

PowerUp is the middleman in this equation. With close connections to both Next Generation and Woz ED, this dynamic team of educators has worked tirelessly to create a vertically aligned educational STEM program alongside leaders at Next Generation Academy. 

PowerUp is an educational company that offers technology resources, training, and guidance to schools across the Southern United States. Originally focused on providing interactive educational experiences through virtual glass panels, they have expanded their scope to encompass five key areas: early childhood literacy, professional learning, ESports, active learning, and STEM labs.

The collaboration between PowerUp and Next Generation began a few years ago when Dr. Sam Misher, seeking interactive technology for his classrooms, crossed paths with the PowerUp team. Given their expertise, it was a natural choice for Next Generation to enlist PowerUp’s assistance in developing a STEM program that would be easy to implement, scalable, and effective in creating more opportunities for their students. Around the same time, PowerUp superstar, Maggie Phillips, stumbled upon Woz ED and the fireworks went off.

With Next Generation’s visionary leadership, PowerUp’s knowledge of integrating technological resources into educational spaces, and Woz ED’s carefully organized STEM kits and curriculum, you have the perfect recipe for a well laid foundation in STEM.

Implementation of Woz ED

Next Generation is three years into the implementation of Woz ED pathways. The school purchased all ten pathways which are Drones, Cybersecurity, AI, Engineering Design, Animation, Robotics, Mobile Development, Coding, and Data Science. Students in grades K-5 attend one STEM class a week, and sixth graders attend two STEM classes a week.

Haywood Stukes was hired as the STEM teacher at Next Generation after taking a short hiatus from being a high school administrator. He has taken on the task of training and learning Woz ED technology so that he can better serve his students. Jerry Gaillard from the PowerUP team describes Mr. Stukes as a unicorn, effortlessly taking on hard tasks and learning new skills constantly. In the beginning, Mr. Stukes was the only STEM teacher, assisted by Mrs. Nancy Hazelman. Now, the two of them have split up to cover more ground and give the students more opportunities to learn STEM concepts.

Dr. Sam Misher tells me he’s not usually one for what he refers to as, “packaged programs,” where everything is inclusive. Woz ED changed his mind on that. He says,

“What I really liked about it was that I didn’t have to go out and find myself a certified technology teacher to be able to implement this program, it is all laid out and easy to follow.”

Another key outcome of implementing STEM with Woz ED kits and curriculum is that other teachers outside of the STEM department are starting to borrow lessons from Woz ED and thread it in with other subjects and learning standards.

In a recent analysis conducted by Maggie from PowerUp and Mrs. Pam Misher, they discovered that the Woz ED Level IV Animation Pathway covers all of the fifth-grade reading and writing standards in North Carolina. This dynamic and creative environment not only engages students in learning animation but also helps develop fundamental reading and writing skills through activities such as following written instructions and storytelling.

Now, the PowerUp team and Next Gen’s Academic Advising team are looking to line up other pathways with state learning standards. They have created what is called a “one note notebook,” where they are laying out each grade level, spacing out the pathways by level, and connecting the dots with learning standards for each subject such as science, math, and social studies. 

Ripples

Next Generation is a prime example of showcasing the impact of STEM education, not only on their students, but on their community. They are finding that this new curriculum is creating a ripple effect, starting with the students, extending to their families, and then slowly trickling out onto the greater Greensborough community.

In April of 2022, Next Generation and PowerUp put on their first Woz ED community day during enrollment season. Here, they split up the ten pathways into separate classrooms, each one modeling a lesson in STEM from drones to cybersecurity to mobile development. They then had current and future parents of their students cycle through these classrooms.

What they found was a profound impact on parents as they began to grasp the number of opportunities that these offerings were creating for their children, ones that they had never dreamed possible. Maggie says it beautifully,

“The parents were recognizing that their students, as early as kindergarten, were getting learning experiences that were going to catapult them in the future. In a community that is a high population density community, where a lot of those students don’t graduate, don’t matriculate into college, I think it was eye opening for the parents when we talked about the drone pathway and how the potential existed for these students to get their Part 107 License or make a significant income with a career in cybersecurity. Some of them were talking about wanting to learn these skills themselves.”

This community event not only brought in a large number of students, but, more importantly,  instilled in the community a newfound sense of hope.

Dr. Misher shared a heartwarming story with me about a particular student who, during Next Generation’s recent graduation ceremony, asked her parents where they would live because she wanted to stay at the school forever. Dr. Misher had taught this student’s grandmother, then her mother, and now her. He emphasizes that the most significant effect of Next Generation’s educational approach is that students feel loved and supported, which in turn brings happiness to their families. Witnessing this appreciation, gratitude, and joy span across generations is what it’s all about for him.

In the Works at Next Gen

There is a significant effort happening on the parts of the Mishers, STEM teachers, such as Haywood Stukes and Nancy Hazelman, the Next Gen Academic Advising Team, and the PowerUp team to expand and accelerate the deployment of Woz ED curriculum throughout the school. 

With the “one note notebook” initiative, there is a goal to create a STEM curriculum that seamlessly integrates North Carolina Learning Standards across the board. This will allow for more STEM classrooms and lessons throughout grade levels.

There is also a push for more on site training so that other teachers at Next Generation can learn how to use the STEM resources provided by Woz ED. Mr. Stukes believes that this training is key to successful implementation and scaling. He commented on how much these training sessions have taught him.

The school also has goals to add a seventh and eighth grade program in coming years that contains a continuation of the STEM curriculum. Dr. Misher notes how much the educational space has changed since he began as a math teacher in 1982. He says,

“I’ve had the opportunity to evolve along with it, and we want to prepare our kids to evolve and survive over the next 30 plus years as technology evolves.”

What is STEM? Re-evaluating the Dialogue

When I spoke with the PowerUp team, I asked what some of the largest challenges are in implementing new resources and programs. Maggie Phillips told me that STEM is a “buzzword” in education. On paper, every school and district wants a STEM program, but there is a lot of red tape when it comes to financials and logistics, and STEM is not a one size fits all concept. It is dependent on environmental factors, educational standards, and leadership. 

It is crucial to initiate discussions on the diverse forms STEM education can take in different environments. Debbie Gaillard, PowerUp’s marketing guru, emphasizes the importance of sharing stories and fostering a community of educators who collaborate to discover best practices in education.

It is common for individuals to become so engrossed in the happenings of their own schools that they sometimes forget they are contributing to the broader educational landscape across the nation. As educators, it is essential to ask the question: How can we continue to grow and share our growth with other schools and districts in order to create a positive transformation in the educational sphere?

STEM education, as Maggie tells me, is “really about equipping our students with those problem solving skills, the creativity, the critical thinking, the collaboration, and communication skills” necessary to go on and be successful in whatever path they choose, whether that be in a STEM field like engineering or cybersecurity, in a creative profession, or in parenting.

When educators approach STEM lessons with this mindset, they can view the new technological resources as tools to help students develop foundational skills and explore both current and future technologies. As Haywood Stukes told me,

“The concept of STEM is only going to progress within any of the chosen fields that these students pursue. They are going to be exposed to more and more technology and, once they graduate, most careers have one or more of these facets of technology involved that they will be required to know. Learning this early, they will adjust to the fact that this is the way of the world right now.”

Published: June 02, 2023

Standards-Based

Science Kits

Career-Aligned Pathways

STEM Kits

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