Pi­o­neer­ing for to­mor­row

West New­ton be­comes county’s first ele­men­tary school with full STEM pro­gram

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - KAYLA ROBINS krobins@cov­news.com

Frogs, chick­ens, rock­ets and Le­gos. And that’s just one class. West New­ton Ele­men­tary School fourt­hand fifth-graders are tak­ing part in the county’s first ele­men­tary school STEM pro­gram and com­pet­i­tive Lego Ro­bot­ics Team.

Although STEM (science, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math) as­pects are be­ing in­cor­po­rated into lessons through­out the grades, the two old­est grades will ac­tu­ally spend a class pe­riod in the brand new, brightly painted STEM room.

Boxes of the high­est model Lego kits, able

to in­clude sound, light­ing and elec­tronic move­ment, stack the shelves of Ms. KiTonya McCoy’s class­room, which she said teach­ers have been com­ing in to look at as a fin­ished prod­uct. Each wall is painted a dif­fer­ent color, with the green and yel­low walls sit­ting in be­tween blue and purple.

“I want to in­crease the joy for learn­ing,” McCoy said, “be­cause you can’t learn with­out en­joy­ing it.”

Lego Ro­bot­ics Team mem­bers will be able to build ro­bots to solve a sce­nario for re­gional com­pe­ti­tions. Pre­vi­ously, McCoy said, teams at other schools had to re­pair a city af­ter a nat­u­ral di- saster with their Lego ro­bots.

“I wanted to get kids in­volved in some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent than a typ­i­cal class­room,” McCoy said.

She said STEM, even as early as ele­men­tary school, al­lows stu­dents ex­pe­ri­ences they would not have out­side of school. Stu­dents may not know they can be an engi­neer if they don’t see that pro­fes­sion al­ready in the fam­ily.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each grade level have been work­ing to­gether since last year to put the pro­gram to­gether for the around 250 fourt­hand fifth-grade stu­dents.

Thurs­day was the first day the stu­dents had class in the new room. McCoy, who has been at West New­ton for seven years and in the school district for 14, talked to stu­dents about what STEM is and some pos­si­ble ca­reers that can come of the STEM ed­u­ca­tion.

McCoy said she was sur­prised to hear how much they al­ready knew about STEM ca­reers, with ma­rine bi­ol­ogy, com­puter pro­gram­ming and ve­teri­nar­ian pro­fes­sions rank­ing high on the list. McCoy said she knew they like video games, so she in­tro­duced them to com­puter cod­ing.

Through­out the year, STEM stu­dents will dis­sect more than 250 frogs, hatch chicken eggs, launch about 150 rock­ets and build me­chan­i­cal arms, bridges and tow­ers. They will get to wear hard­hats dur­ing the engi­neer­ing seg­ments and build a gar­den, and all of these sup­plies and projects have not – and will not – pro­duce any ex­tra cost to stu­dents or par­ents.

“Our hope is that when they grow up, they will con­tinue to want to learn more and con­tinue on this path,” McCoy said.

“Ev­ery year, we rein­vent our­selves and ask what we need to do to bet­ter our­selves,” said West New­ton Prin­ci­pal Dr. Tak­ila Mead­ows-Curry.

Curry, who has been at West New­ton for six of her 13 years in the district, said her goal for the school and its STEM pro­gram is to be­come cer­ti­fied with the state, which takes three years of meet­ing re­quire­ments. The low turnover rate in teach­ers hope­fully will help so­lid­ify this plan and keep a con­sis­tency that is needed for mul­ti­ple-year goals, she said.

“We know it’s a huge un­der­tak­ing,” Curry said. “It won’t hap­pen overnight, but they’re up for the chal­lenge.”

Kayla Robins/The Cov­ing­ton News

KiTonya McCoy, West New­ton Ele­men­tary’s STEM teacher, said stu­dents have asked ev­ery day when they get to see the frogs they will dis­sect dur­ing the school year. West New­ton is the county’s first ele­men­tary school to have a STEM pro­gram and com­pet­i­tive Lego Ro­bot­ics Team.

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