Cutting-edge initiatives, strong community support prepare students for success.
Students in Erica Hoover’s bioSTEM class at White House Heritage High School are putting their science lessons to use in a high school biotechnology lab in ways that were unavailable to college students just a few years ago.>
“This is cutting edge and relevant, whether they start their career right after high school or pursue more education,” Hoover says.>
The lab is part of the White House, TN school’s new bioSTEM curriculum that began in early 2020. The classes and labs prepare students for careers in the medical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, energy and forensic fields.>
Graduates can work immediately in a lab doing DNA and other testing, or they can enter a technical college or university to increase their earning potential in more advanced careers.>
BioSTEM is just one of Robertson County Schools’ initiatives focused on educating the district’s more than 11,000 students for tomorrow’s jobs.
A STEAM magnet middle school program called Innovation Academy, which was created at Springfield Middle School and is expanding to grades 6-12 in 2021, focuses on project-based learning activities that prepare students for college and careers.
Students in Springfield, TN engage in hands-on, technology-based activities while exploring how to solve problems in and around the community.
The application and qualification process for admission into the Innovation Academy (iA) means scholars are held to a high level of academic and behavior expectations.
Project-based learning opportunities include building miniature libraries for the community to use, designs for acoustics/noise reduction in the cafeteria, proposals for the reconstruction of a parking lot, presentation to the city council on ideas for affordable housing, and models of raised garden beds.
“Once, a group literally lifted our principal off his feet with their design of a fully functioning hover chair.”
Solving real-world problems is a vital part of the initiative. For example, anyone who has been to school knows the lunchroom can be a noisy place.
Students in iA researched and designed an acoustic way to reduce the noise level. Students used math, engineering, budgeting and presentation skills to pitch a solution. Another project involved students designing greenhouses.
The projects were judged by three local community business members with expertise and experience in greenhouses and growth. The winning project was constructed with grant money, allowing students to see their work come to fruition.
In addition, each year, students in grades six, seven and eight showcase their innovative thinking at the annual STEAM Fair.
“We’ve had scholars create a robot that can solve a Rubik’s Cube,” says Maureen Henderson, STEAM Magnet coordinator. “Once, a group literally lifted our principal off his feet with their design of a fully functioning hover chair.”
Strong Community Support
Henderson says the community connection is a key to the program’s success. The business community’s support allows students to see the “why” behind what they are learning and see that jobs and careers are available beyond the classroom.
In partnership with the Robertson County Economic Development Board, the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce manages a range of projects that support, challenge and improve education and make sure students gain the real-world skills they need to become effective employees and capable leaders.
In Hoover’s bioSTEM lab, students begin by learning basic safety skills, understanding the equipment, and advancing into practicing biotech skills.
“Students even get to learn about the Crispr-Cas9 gene-editing tool,” Hoover says. “It is cool to see students in high school do things in the lab that I didn’t get to do in college.”
In a recent lab class, students studied DNA samples and performed comparison tests, developing the same type of skills performed in forensic crime labs.
Like the Innovation Academy, the bioSTEM program is expected to expand.
“Right now, we have bioSTEM I and II,” Hoover says. “We envision having a third-level course and then eventually some work-based learning. We want to get our students in the field, gaining some real-world experience with the course. That’s our vision.”
Want to learn more about Robertson County? Check out the new edition of Experience Robertson County, Tennessee.