Proponents laud STEM academic program that's gearing up in Kingman

Jeri Wolsey

Jeri Wolsey

KINGMAN - Students entering the two middle schools in the Kingman Unified School District this fall will be able to participate in a new program focusing on the growing array of STEM careers.

KUSD is implementing a STEM academy at Kingman High School that will prepare them for science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. Students from Kingman Middle School and White Cliffs Middle School can elect to take the program, beginning in sixth grade, which will feed into an expanded high school version.

"I feel that we are really getting students ready for college now, whereas in past years, the dropout and failure rates of our college freshmen were pretty high," said Jeri Wolsey, curriculum director for KUSD. "I think these programs set them up for nothing but success. They're not going to fail because they're going to be completely ready for that college experience."

STEM Academy is designed to spark creativity, innovative thinking skills and hands-on experience, said Wolsey. It gives students a chance to apply what they know, identify a problem, find unique solutions and lead their own learning, rather than be passive recipients of information.

Currently, KUSD has a Cambridge Preparatory Academy at both middle schools that features an expanded version at Lee Williams High School. It is based on State Sen. Rich Crandall's 2011 Move on When Ready legislation and is designed to offer students a rigorous, relevant curriculum that earns them a Grand Canyon diploma.

Within Move on When Ready, emphasis is placed on allowing students to progress at their own pace rather than calculated seat time. KUSD implemented Cambridge Preparatory Academy at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Cambridge involves traditional core classes, such as world history, science, English and mathematics. KUSD was one of the first districts in Arizona to implement it.

"I feel we are ahead of the game in offering our students rigorous programs with real-world applications. We all know that a student-led classroom is the best teaching situation. It used to be that you'd go in a classroom and the teacher would be lecturing and the students taking notes. But how engaged are they? Now the students are doing the teaching and the teacher becomes the facilitator."

Students throughout the district can apply for the Cambridge program and are accepted based on a point system that includes their grade point averages, behavior, standardized testing results, attendance and an essay. The application process for fifth-graders selecting STEM Academy will be very similar, said Wolsey.

A count of 98 Cambridge students out of 587 total students at KMS and 173 Cambridge students out of 680 total students at WCMS are participating this year. And 205 Cambridge students out of 722 total students have funneled into the program at LWHS this year.

Students preparing to attend KHS did not have the option of participating in a similar program there, and Wolsey was committed to offering an alternative. Students at KMS who are currently enrolled in Cambridge will transition to STEM Academy within two years and pursue it at KHS.

Focus on bringing the program here began last year when Wolsey and other KUSD educators visited several school campuses in Arizona to inspect their STEM programs. Wolsey said she was impressed with what she saw and how components of other programs could be used by KUSD to help its students.

This fall, students at KHS who choose to pursue STEM majors can participate in the biomedical science academy, which offers pathways to medical assistant, health information technician and nursing. They also can select the program's engineering and drafting academy, which focuses on engineering. KHS is partnering with the University of Arizona in Tucson to offer molecular cellular biology classes needed for a biomedical degree.

The next year, KHS will be offering a computer science academy and possibly a pathway leading to agriscience. The third year, KHS will be implementing academies that are geared towards careers in which students have expressed recent interest. All the academies are rigorous and employ real-world applications.

"One of the biggest misconceptions about STEM is that it's all science, technology, engineering and math classes," said Janelle Victory, principal at KHS. "While they may be that at the skeletal level, STEM is really about instruction in the classroom. It's a delivery method that pushes students' thinking and allows us to hone in on their skills.

"I really anticipate great things from this. I think the program itself is exciting and lends itself naturally to students achieving and accomplishing things that will be a shock to us all. I think we're going to see a lot of high-level academic outcomes for a big portion of our students."