WINNSBORO — As the second cohort in the STEM Early College Academy completes its first semester at Fairfield Middle School, J.R. Green said this group of Fairfield County students is receiving an education that is second to none.
“People assume I am speaking in hyperbole when I mention that, but I assure you that is not the case,” said the superintendent, whose twin daughters are in the program.
He shared a story of how their coursework is more rigorous than advanced coursework at Hammond Academy, for example.
Green said the ability for students to earn an associate’s degree by the time they finish high school is priceless and places them two years ahead of the curve. Even if they do not earn college scholarships, half of college would be complete at a savings to the students and their families.
“This is ideal for what I want to see with my own children,” he said. “But we realize (being in STEM) is a family decision and a family commitment.”
Green said the STEM program might not be a good fit for some children, even if they do well academically but he said it is an excellent program for students who wish to push themselves. He described the work as intense but said students are doing really well.
“The next cohort learns from the other two. We have our students speak to prospective students about the STEM program. Each class will learn from the eighth graders. And we expect student achievement to improve the next few years as they become accustomed to the curriculum,” he said.
Project Lead the Way will be the next step for this class, a curriculum with advanced science, engineering and social studies coursework that students begin second semester of the seventh-grade year.
Cohort students Grade 8
As a benchmark, students in the first cohort, who currently are eighth-graders, took the compass assessment for technical schools with a goal of earning a qualifying score by grade 9. Half of the second nine week eighth-graders qualified in reading and half qualified in math.
Green expects all of them to qualify when they retest in May. This success contrasts, Green said, with the students technical schools get currently, of whom 40 percent require some remedial courses.
The program goal is to give students a broad experience with a STEM focus but to develop literary skills along with the math skills. Green said the Latin will expand the students’ thinking and help them with vocabulary. That benefit helps with advanced social studies and advanced English courses.
All STEM early college academy cohort students are issued Google Chromebooks with unlimited data plans. Students can complete projects in a virtual environment. Other opportunities to learn technology and engineering come from field studies.
This past summer, Grade 8 students took a robotics course taught by a USC engineering professor. Those same students recently visited the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. On Feb. 7 and Feb. 8 cohort students will visit Boeing in Charleston for a field study. Green said they are looking more for field studies in the program.
Green said it is a big commitment but students can rise to the expectations. He uses his daughters as examples. As members of the first STEM Early College Academy Cohort, Green said they spend up to four hours per night studying during the week.
Lamar Richards, vice president of the Fairfield Middle School student body, said he studies about six hours a day during the week to keep up in the program. He enjoys using Googledocs and Chromebooks for ELA projects. His career goals include attend Harvard, become president of the United States or be a criminal profiler or a school district superintendent.
“My mom loves the STEM thing,” Richards said. “She never had that opportunity, so why not take it? She has high expectations for me.”
The students agreed time management and self discipline are the keys to their success.
“It’s not too hard to juggle. If you put in the study time and pay attention in class, it’s not hard at all,” said Stephen Reese, a basketball player and Beta Club student. Reese plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill and either be a math professor or a state trooper like his dad.
“My mom loves the STEM program,” Reese said. “It is a good way to excel but you need to study. This program will bring a good name to Fairfield County by increasing standards for excellence and STEM will help you get there.”
Chakita Able sees the STEM program as a stepping stone to Harvard University where she wants to study to become either an architect or a fashion designer. Able said she liked the Chromebooks and how they could use them to keep in contact with teachers.
Madelynne Garner agreed, sharing how she had to study first and then attend rec league soccer games.
“I think the Chromebooks is a good study tool and communication tool but it is all in the way you use it,” she said.
Garner plans to attend USC or Winthrop to either become a science teacher or follow her father’s footsteps and become a journalist.
“My parents like it and it is an awesome opportunity. And a way to challenge me. It’s really awesome,” Garner said.