Updated: Oct 18, 2020
This year has been so disrespectful.
But I must admit I have enjoyed the creativity that this time has birthed.
This past spring, the Advocating for the Community Through STEM (A.C.T.S.) Program was in it's 3rd year in existence and our inaugural cohort were preparing to be seniors. It was always understood that as part of our initiative, all program seniors would be enrolled in a STEM capstone course in which they would complete a capstone project. This course would have no pre-established standards or curriculum which meant that we would need to create it from the ground up.
And that's a space I love to live in.
Because that means this course could be whatever we dreamed up. We could determine the lines in which we would color - or discard of the lines altogether. A STEM Advisory Board was assembled and an Innovation Committee created to advise us on potential components and outcomes of this course. The committee met once in the spring and subsequent conversations occurred with STEM professionals to brainstorm the potential scope, sequence and outcomes of the capstone experience.
And then there was the Rona.
Educators and students were forced to complete the school year in quarantine. By the end of the school year, we also lost a fair number of faculty including key individuals who had been critical in the formation of our STEM program and initiative. But despite an entire pandemic and personnel changes, it didn't change the fact that the first cohort would be entering their senior year in the fall and a course needed to be developed.
So it was developed.
And it has been going well. Eight A.C.T.S. seniors (divided into two teams) have been charged to identify a community challenge and develop a digital solution by the end of the semester. It is a fairly fast paced course in which students apply any acquired learning quickly and in real time. Failure is mandatory; continuous improvement is required. In addition to my role as the STEM Instructional Coach, I serve as the instructor for this experience. I can honestly say that it has been one of the most creative challenges I have undertaken as an educator and provides a holistic perspective about the effectiveness of the SAHS A.C.T.S. experience.
Much like everyone else, I miss being social with loved ones and friends. Furthermore, I truly miss seeing my kids everyday and being able to give them plenty of much needed hugs. The "will we" or "won't we" return to school this semester conversation has been dizzying to say the least (and for the record - we were but we ain't now). This year has literally chuckled at all of our planners and as a result, has been a masterclass in accepting whatever is to come. Regardless of these challenges, I try to remind myself and the students daily to focus less on what we can't do during this time and discover what we can do. Our current reality has forced every other industry to creatively pivot, why should education be any different?
The virtual nature of the classroom has allowed for us to welcome a number of guest speakers, teachers, coaches and observers in a relatively short span of time. South Atlanta teacher Mr. Keene Walker, Ms. KaCey Venning and Mr. James "Jay" Bailey provided much needed context to one team while Mr. Greg Clay and Mr. Horace Williams joined forces to chat politics and government with the other team. Mrs. Kristina Smith joined us a guest teacher and taught the crew how to wireframe the layout of a web-based application. She returned to work more in depth with the developers of each team and will return this week to continue to facilitate the process. Students will also receive additional coaching from South Atlanta media specialist, Mrs. Shanna Miles and art instructor, Mrs. Tokie Rome-Taylor as they put together websites for their digital solutions.
And more are scheduled to come.
Although young people are growing up in a digital age, online learning has not been easy for our students for many reasons. Admittedly, distance and asynchronous learning should have been interwoven into the learning experience prior to the pandemic. But it wasn't and therefore students struggle to adjust to the virtual dynamic. Additionally, students in this course are seniors and therefore are managing the pending responsibilities of young adulthood in the midst of a pandemic. Anxiety, stress, lack of motivation feelings of being overwhelmed have plagued most if not all of them at some point this semester. Therefore when college admission consultant and entrepreneur, Mrs. Racquel Hill, joined class to speak about self-care, balance and mental well-being - it was a much needed conversation.
But here we are.
About midway in the semester and taking it day by day. It is with great pleasure and honor that I have the opportunity to work with these students, all of whom I have known since they were wide-eyed 9th graders. They teach me something new every day - and hopefully I have taught them something as well :-) I am excited to see their academic, personal and professional growth as they engage in the remainder of this class.
So you may be wondering - what problems did the students identify? What are the solutions they created?
Stay tuned and you just might find out!