Full STE(A)M Ahead: Rutherford County Education

Rutherford County students are learning skills they’ll need in their future careers

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Rutherford County TN
Photo by Discovery Center at Murfree Spring

Rutherford County students are acquiring the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow thanks to efforts to bolster training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Rutherford County is expected to add more than 10,000 STEM jobs in the next 10 years, from coding and robotics to 3D printing. As daunting as that may seem, Rutherford County students are well on their way to meeting the challenge. From elementary school through high school, students are involved in learning experiences that will prepare them for the jobs they’ll find in Rutherford County – and beyond.

Middle school students are already STEM-savvy by the time they get to high school.

A robust secondary school STEM curriculum in Rutherford County is helping teenagers who will soon enter the workforce assess their aptitudes and interests, providing them with hands-on STEM training, and practice with skills such as project management, team communication, leadership and decision making. 

Students may also learn about career opportunities from local employers through internships, job shadowing and more.

“Four or five years ago we began to consider whether our students were adequately prepared for future careers,” says Stephanie Finley, Rutherford County Schools (RCS) Science and STEM Specialist, pre-K through eighth grade. 

In 2014, she says, RCS began to add STEM teachers to schools. Fast forward to today, and  every middle school in the system has a dedicated STEM program. 

Most of the focus is on engineering and design processes, finding solutions using technology and engineering, such as looking for a safer way to engineer windmills so they don’t harm birds.

“Our strategy has been to start with middle school to prepare kids for high school,” Finley says. 

“Some schools have after-school STEM programs and science fairs. Several schools received grants from Dell for Junior Botball, where they program robots provided by the KISS Institute, which teaches kids to code and how to apply the engineering design process,” she says.

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Photo Courtesy of Rutherford County Chamber

Hundreds of students took part in the first STEM Summit for middle schoolers, held at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Smyrna in October 2018.

Nearly 100 K-12 students entered complex projects in the 2018 RCS STEM Expo.

STEM education takes place as early as kindergarten, when kids enjoy fun STEM Friday programs as they learn basic science concepts.

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Photo by Discovery Center at Murfree Spring

The Art of the Matter

Add an A – for arts – to STEM and you’ll get the award-winning, statewide STEAM Fest, launched in 2017 and hosted by the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring

The 2018 Fest involved dozens of businesses, educational entities, hundreds of volunteers and 20,000 enthusiastic students from around the state who attended 150 events over the course of a week.

“These festivals exist all over the world. But not many are statewide,” says Tara MacDougall, president and CEO of the Center. “Our goal is to get STEM out of classrooms and universities and to show that science is about barbecues or how a Nerf gun is made—almost anything you can think of.”

Unique STEAM events at the 2018 Fest included a viewing of Halloween at the Belcourt Theatre, followed by a fascinating look at the neurological basis of fear and a project to determine which holds more filling—a soft tortilla or a hard tortilla.

Facts & Stats

47 schools in the Rutherford County schools district

44k student enrollment in the district

96% district graduation rate 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996. She enjoys travel, food, jazz, Titans football, he... more

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Wed, 10/16/2019 - 12:38