Pittsylvania County STEM Academy to launch new high school program | News

CHATHAM, Va. — Staff at Pittsylvania County Schools (PCS) are busy at work preparing a new program anticipated for the 2021-2022 school year that would allow for the more equal distribution of STEM resources division-wide.

Beginning in the fall, ninth and 10th grade students will have the opportunity to take their science courses at the STEM Academy to have more hands-on learning of the standards, as well as be exposed to careers within certain fields.

“There’s currently a gap [in STEM education] in ninth and 10th grade,” Wanda Vaughan, STEM initiative coordinator with PCS, said. “There’s not much there to experience careers or things to do in the future.”

Currently, the elementary schools use the STEM Academy a few times per year, pulling fifth grade students from their base school to do hands-on activities. At the middle school level, the GoTech program helps students in the Career Connections labs learn more about nine different career paths including metrology, robotics, health sciences and more. Eighth and ninth graders also have the opportunity to visit the STEM Academy.

Instead of continuing to pull those students out of class to travel to the academy, Vaughan said it would be more effective to “push in” at the elementary level and complete similar activities there.

The new STEM program will help bridge the gap in early high school, as students currently continue their regular course work until junior year, where they have the opportunity to then attend Governor’s School or begin career and technical programs at Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center (PCTC). 

In the program, students will be able to take their science course requirements of environmental science and biology with a more hands-on curriculum, in addition to the opportunity to either choose a health/medical science pathway or look into other opportunities through Career Connections. 

“There’s currently a need for more health and medical science careers,” Vaughan said. “[The exposure] is not a part of regular high school curriculum. At the STEM Academy, students can take a course and understand that they could be a doctor, an RN, a CNA or a lab tech. It’s a broad area, but students would have the base knowledge as a stepping stone.”

Students will complete an “innovation project” at the end of their sophomore year.

The new STEM program is designed to bridge the gap of the first to years of high school, so that students can be more prepared to enter their junior and senior years, whether they choose to stay and take advanced courses at their base school, attend Governor’s School or enroll in a PCTC program.

Currently, the PCS STEM Academy is being upfitted for the new program, including with adequate science labs.

The program has been gaining interest, with 99 percent of students accepted into the program set to attend. There is a capacity for 72 students per grade per semester.

Vaughan is “excited and frightened” to finally get the program underway, as so many have become invested in it and want it to be perfect for students.

“It could change how we deliver curriculum and content to students,” Vaughan said. “It would be a positive change…[Instruction] could be viewed in a different way. The STEM Academy is immersive and students can see how things are connected across different curriculum.”

Vaughan, as well as other staff helping to build the program, believe that the benefits in the program will also be seen in feature SOL test scores, as students will better learn the information when shown the practicality of the information.

For more information on the program, visit stem.pcs.k12.va.us.

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