For the past couple of years at Medora Elementary School, four words have been at the forefront for students and teachers: Science, technology, engineering and math.
From classroom assignments to a makerspace lab with special equipment to after-school program family nights to summer camps, all activities have revolved around STEM.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery
All of the time and effort recently paid off as officials were notified by the Indiana Department of Education that Medora is now a STEM certified school.
The 12 schools recognized are now among 90 in the state with STEM certification.
“When we found out, there were tears of joy,” said Kara Hunt, dean of students and STEM coordinator for Medora Community Schools. “Everyone — administration, teachers and students — have worked so hard to make this a reality for our school. It was so nice to receive verification from the state that our STEM program was valuable for our students and worthy of certification.”
Principal Austin Skutnik said officials were extremely excited to hear the news.
“Our elementary staff has put so much effort into becoming a STEM school over the last two years, and it was great to get that validation for our hard work,” she said.
Created in 2015, the STEM Certified Schools program recognizes schools focused on a commitment to teaching STEM disciplines beyond the classroom, according to a news release from the Indiana Department of Education.
The schools exemplify a highly nontraditional approach to education, employing a great deal of inquiry, project-based learning, community engagement, entrepreneurship, student-centered classrooms, integration into humanities and related arts and out-of-school STEM activities, according to the news release.
The schools take this approach while following educational policies set by the state and excelling under the system of accountability.
“Creating environments whereby students are immersed in STEM activities is a priority for Indiana schools,” said State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “I am grateful for the student-focused passion exemplified by our STEM certified schools and commend our 2020 schools for furthering Indiana’s dedication to STEM.”
Prior to certification, each school completed a rigorous application and review process.
“The Indiana Department of Education has a rubric that they use to judge schools that apply for STEM certification,” Hunt said. “We used the rubric to guide our implementation along the way. In order to officially apply for certification, we had to complete a Google Site that shared information and artifacts of our STEM program. This Google Site is linked on our school website and can be viewed by the public.”
The STEM certification is valid for four years, so Medora will have to renew in 2024.
“As an administration, we know that attaining the certification is just the beginning for our school,” Hunt said. “We will continue to build upon this certification to continue to provide quality STEM programming for the students of Medora Elementary. In addition, we will be moving forward in implementing our STEM programs into the junior-senior high end of the building.”
Medora received a grant during the 2017-18 school year, which was the planning year when officials began thinking about STEM implementation. In 2018-19, Hunt became the STEM facilitator and began working with teachers on implementation and curriculum.
“The 2019-20 year was really our first year of full program implementation, where each teacher was trained and implementing Project Lead the Way,” Skutnik said. “This past school year was when I took a step back and was able to say, ‘Wow! We are truly a STEM school.’”
Hunt said teachers and students have wholeheartedly embraced STEM implementation from the beginning.
“Our teachers worked hard to make these types of learning experiences real world for our students,” she said. “We hear from teachers, parents and students about how much the kiddos love STEM. Now, if you ask our students what their favorite subject is, they answer with STEM or engineering. It has really been a complete mind shift from where we started out with our STEM program two short years ago.”
With anything new, Skutnik said there could be worry and doubt and questioning the purpose behind it. When she brought the STEM initiative to the staff three years ago, she said it took a lot of trust on their part to take a risk.
“We all knew that change was necessary in order to improve, and I have been very fortunate to have a group of teachers who were willing to take the plunge and go all in with STEM education,” she said.
“At first, our students were hesitant and questioned why we were doing different activities and projects, but as this became more of the norm and STEM became more integrated throughout the curriculum, they began to make connections, build some resilience and grit and ultimately love the activities and approaches to learning,” she said.
The STEM certification most of all will benefit the students, Skutnik said.
“STEM education is really about building a strong foundation of inquiry, collaboration and problem-solving, which will grow with the students throughout their education and into college and career,” she said.
The certification is just the cherry on top, Hunt said.
“The benefits of implementing a STEM curriculum in our elementary classrooms have been so important to seeing growth in our students in every aspect of their learning,” she said. “Kids love having the opportunity to get their hands dirty and make real-life connections with their studies. STEM has provided that for our kids.”
Officials would like to see the STEM certification draw new students to the school.
“While I am confident that our STEM certification status will benefit and challenge our current students in awesome ways, I hope that it shows just how much heart our school community has,” Skutnik said.
“That above all, we will not only do right by our kids, but we will make it our priority to equip them with experiences and skills that will prepare them for the bright future I know they are all capable of having,” she said. “I want families and students to want to check out Medora Elementary because they recognize that heart and they too want to be a part of something special.”
Hunt said she hopes the certification sets the school apart.
“When we have guests in the building from local industries, they usually tell us how blown away they are with the exciting things that are happening at this tiny, country school,” she said. “My hope is with this STEM certification, people start to notice the amazing things happening at Medora Elementary.”
Skutnik thanked the teachers, instructional aides, students, other staff members and families for playing a vital role in the process of becoming certified.
“I cannot wait to see all of the ways we continue to grow together,” she said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
2020 STEM certified schools
Eminence Community School Corp.: Eminence Elementary School
Medora Community School Corp.: Medora Elementary School
MSD Lawrence Township: Crestview Elementary School
MSD Lawrence Township: Forest Glen Elementary School
MSD Lawrence Township: Oaklandon Elementary School
New Castle Community School Corp.: Parker Elementary School
Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp.: Elm Road Elementary School
South Dearborn Community School Corp.: Aurora Elementary School
Tell City-Troy Township School Corp.: William Tell Elementary School
Warsaw Community Schools: Claypool Elementary School
Warsaw Community Schools: Jefferson Elementary School
Warsaw Community Schools: Madison Elementary School
To view a complete list of Indiana STEM certified schools, visit https://www.doe.in.gov/wf-stem/indianas-stem-certified-schools.
For information on the Indiana Department of Education’s efforts to increase STEM education across the state, visit https://www.doe.in.gov/wf-stem/indiana-stem-education-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics.
To see Medora Elementary School’s STEM certification information, visit medora.k12.in.us.