Local STEM courses popular

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 2, 2015

HANDS-ON LEARNING: Nicholson Elementary teacher Maureen Pollitz guides one of her gifted sixth-grade students through a lesson relating to STEM. File photo.

HANDS-ON LEARNING: Nicholson Elementary teacher Maureen Pollitz guides one of her gifted sixth-grade students through a lesson relating to STEM. File photo.

Understanding the principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is becoming increasingly important in classrooms across the country.

According to a new household study from the Afterschool Alliance—an organization dedicated to raising awareness for after-school programs—the state of Mississippi is lagging behind other states in providing after-school programs focusing on STEM. However, educators across Pearl River County are making strides to ensure students are exposed to those principles.

According to the study, 41 percent of Mississippi parents who were surveyed reported their child’s after-school program offers STEM learning opportunities compared to the national average of 69 percent. The study also showed that only 50 percent of parents in Mississippi were satisfied with the program.

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But in Pearl River County, educators are bucking that trend and offering students more hands-on exposure to STEM.

An after-school program called the Community of Christians Helping Youth in Picayune has exposed children to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics for the past three years. The program is funded by the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, CCHY Executive Director Roy Acker said. Programs are offered Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 120 Street A Suite C in Picayune’s Industrial Park.

Acker said STEM jobs are in high demand and it’s up to educators to prepare the younger generation to fill those positions in the future.

“We have to treat STEM like reading, writing and arithmetic. STEM is almost a mirror of the three r’s,” Acker said.

In Nicholson Elementary, STEM is a way of life. Throughout the school year, teachers volunteer their time to expose students to the related subject areas.

Lisa Howie, the school’s assistant principal, said they offer numerous projects throughout the year dedicated to garnering interest for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Their after-school program called the FIRST Lego League meets every Monday and Tuesday and is headed by the school’s librarian. Around ten years and nine regional trophies later, the organization has continued to teach students STEM disciplines via project-based learning, Howie said.

“STEM is the future. If we don’t teach our kids what’s going to come in the future, they won’t be prepared. We have to prepare them for jobs in the community, that’s our goal,” Howie said.

The school also hosts a science camp every summer and has a STEM committee, which organizes activities every nine weeks for different grade levels, Howie said.

Recently, the school was named one of the five grand prize winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, winning an estimated $138,000 in technology and cash for the school, according to previous Item coverage.

Earlier this year, Nicholson Elementary teacher Maureen Pollitz, along with her gifted sixth-grade students and high school students from the Pearl River County robotics team, applied STEM to a real-life situation by creating a robot designed to survey the city of Picayune’s storm drain pipes to prevent flooding. The students worked with NASA personnel to learn how to utilize the engineering design process and Picayune Public Works Director Eric Morris to come up with a solution to fix the city’s storm drains, the Item previously reported.

The school has since incorporated chromebooks, laptops and tablets in every classroom, Howie said.

Older students in the county are also exposed to STEM.

Each school district in the county currently has a career development center, which aims to provide STEM-related electives to students.

At Poplarville High School’s Career Development Center, high school students are developing real-world skills in fields varying from science to the culinary arts.

Dr. Marlene Cole, the center’s director, believes their programs are instrumental in preparing students to excel after graduation.

“While these programs are taken as electives, these students have a chance to receive long-term benefits from them,” Cole said in a previous story.

There are currently six programs offered at the Career Development Center, including agriculture and environmental science technology, culinary arts, digital media, health sciences, marketing and the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I think STEM is where everything is headed,” Acker said.