At the start of the school year, Thorpe Gordon Elementary will officially become Thorpe Gordon STEM Academy. The elementary school will be transitioning into Jefferson City’s first public STEM school after a year of preparation.
Principal Delora Scaggs said that she expects the change to have a positive, long-term impact on both students and the local community. “We’re just trying to get students hooked on education and expose them to as much as possible while they’re young,” she said.
Although Thorpe Gordon’s core subjects will not change, teachers will structure lessons in ways that help foster students’ curiosity, cultivate a love of education and promote independent thinking.
“To be a STEM school just means that we’re going to take our curriculum and introduce it to kids in a way that helps them see that STEM is everywhere,” Scaggs said. “STEM just means that we’re going to integrate science, technology, engineering and math in everything that we do.”
Structuring learning around STEM aims to teach students to think critically about problems they encounter in their everyday life and see the real-life applications of what they learn in school. Scaggs hopes that early exposure will set students on a lifelong path of learning and understanding.
Thorpe Gordon STEM Academy teachers trained for two weeks in St. Louis this summer at Washington University where they learned to “STEM-itize” their lesson plans — learning how to teach students to identify problems and implement real-world solutions.
“You usually don’t have eight teachers wanting to give up two weeks of their summer to come to training but they did,” Scaggs said. “So, it was an amazing two weeks of training.”
Key parts of teachers’ training included learning how to make lessons more engaging and helping kids apply them to problems they encounter every day.
“One of the takeaways in our training was that STEM is everywhere if we just take a moment and look at it,” Scaggs said. “One of the things we did was visit a lot of STEM field-related companies, and we learned from them what they do and how they partner with the community.”
Scaggs hopes that by integrating relationships with science and technology companies with elementary education, her students will have the building blocks of the skills they need in their future schooling and careers.
Thorpe Gordon STEM Academy’s curriculum will also emphasize “soft” skills like communication, empathy and collaboration with peers, which STEM-related companies value highly in the workplace.
“Employers are saying that students and workers are coming to them with less and less of those skills,” Scaggs said. “So that’s applicable for us to be able to teach those things every day.”
Scaggs said Thorpe Gordon STEM Academy will be modeled after a partner school, John Thomas School of Discovery, and will eventually be officially certified. Schools need to be established before getting certified, but with continual training and a STEM-focused curriculum, Scaggs is confident that certification will not take long.
“This is a great opportunity for students, and I think it’s really going to have a positive impact and give them exposure to new ideas,” Scaggs said. “It will help set them on a life path to help them understand that school is important, and if they do well in school, that will impact their life.”