Rising S.T.E.A.M-Clay County District

Twenty Three Years and Counting

The Clay County School District is in Green Cove Springs, FL and consists of 29 elementary schools, 8 middle schools, and 8 high schools. This district is actively involved with STEM2Hub and was introduced to Woz ED through the STEM2Hub Team. As a fairly large Title One, rural school district, some of its schools have embraced STEM education, which has proven to be effective in engaging students to learn.

During my conversation with Joseph Ragan, the gifted technology teacher at Grove Park Elementary and a district STEM leader, I learned about his 23-year career as an educator and his unwavering commitment to helping children grow. Joseph recognizes the significance of his role in shaping young minds and creating opportunities for them through STEM education. He firmly believes that STEM has the potential to provide children with opportunities that they may not have had otherwise.

The Process

Since Joseph Ragan teaches at the elementary level, it can be challenging to assess the immediate impact of the STEM curriculum and kits provided by Woz ED. However, he notes that when young children are given drone flying or robot building kits, the expressions on their faces are akin to those of someone experiencing Disneyland for the first time.

Clay county has five Woz ED pathways that they are creating programs with. These are Robotics, Drone , Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and 3D Engineering. Within these pathways, there are a million opportunities for kids to experience hands-on learning, explore, and play. Right now, at Grove Park Elementary, Orange Park Junior High, Keystone Heights, and Wilkinson Junior High, students are receiving instruction in these STEM career paths provided by Woz ED, supplemented by resources from community partners like STEM2Hub.

The current goal is to have each student master at least one of the pathways by the end of the year. For instance, first-graders will focus on mastering AI, second-graders on drones, third-graders on cybersecurity, and so on, until each pathway is learned at the elementary level before advancing to more complex concepts in middle and high school.

The Challenge of Meeting Current Benchmarks

STEM educators and administrators face a significant challenge in implementing curriculum aligned with national elementary, middle, and high school standards in math, science, and reading. They not only have to learn a whole new way of teaching, but they have to ensure that the new curriculum adheres to math and science standards. I like how Ragan phrased it originally in explaining the current system, they “sprinkle in the standards,” as they correlate to STEM concepts and pathways.

To ensure that students fully comprehend each concept they learn, the district emphasizes in-depth instruction. For example, instead of just handing a drone to a student, it is essential to teach them about aspects such as drone power and the elements necessary for a successful takeoff and landing.

District officials often question how STEM programs increase opportunities for students. As a science teacher, Ragan has to provide a rationale and demonstrate that students are meeting educational goals. Once the program is evaluated and there is evidence that a benchmark has been met, the program can expand, and more schools can implement it with less resistance.

A Spark to a Bush Fire

Anyone who sees STEM education in action, who is able to interact with the curriculum and see the students’ eyes light up, knows the effect. The goal now is to get more people to see it. 

Ragan told me that,

“Woz ED allows us to explore career paths that aren’t pigeon holed. They take the spark and turn it into a bush fire.”

He knows that children are engaged, the next step is finding the best model for each environment because each district and each school is different. The reason Woz ED works across the board is because it can be used as a supplement, but can also be used as a foundational curriculum, allowing an in-depth exploration of concepts. 

A spark at the elementary level turns into a larger spark in middle school and then an increased interest and dedication in high school within a flourishing field. When asked what he believes is the best way to make change, Ragan replied, “the spark.” If we can allow more people to experience the spark, which,  in this case is STEM Education, more people will undoubtedly see the potential it has to change lives.

More STEM Ahead

Within Clay, there are more and more people using the Woz ED curriculum across the district and the kindling is spreading. They have started doing invitationals where they invite other schools and districts to learn about STEM Education alongside them. At these events they have friendly competitions building drones, or using AI, or building robots.

These are a few examples of what Clay is doing to encourage growth with an increased emphasis on STEM Education. At Grove Park Elementary, they are now moving into year three of implementation, which is an exciting place to be in. In years one and two, there has been a lot of trial and error. Moving into year three, there is more confidence with the material and a greater opportunity for growth. Joseph Ragan says that STEM Educators in Clay County are 

“Looking to solidify what we’ve started, and see the fruits on the trees.” 

As with most changes, the momentum starts building slowly, and then more rapidly. It is important to celebrate the small daily victories and keep moving forward. Clay County is a prime example of a resilient organization taking steps each day towards a common goal: Implementing STEM Education across the district and supporting students in their journey towards a future full of opportunity, exploration, and security.

Published: March 22, 2023


Science Kits

Career-Aligned Pathways


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