About 40 Clarkdale Elementary School fifth graders walk across campus to Cooper Middle School three days a week to get a jump-start on learning sixth grade math. Science teachers from Cooper Middle visit the elementary students to introduce them to more advanced science concepts.
The partnership between the two schools is a product of Cooper Middle’s expanding Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy. The Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) has described the partnership as “innovative.”
The Clarkdale fifth graders will become Cooper STEM Academy students next school year and will benefit from the middle school’s latest state achievement—on March 6, GADOE representatives recognized Cooper as the first middle school in the Cobb County School District to be Georgia STEM Certified.
“I’m very proud of this school,” said Gilda Lyon, GADOE STEM coordinator. “We only have 41 schools in the state of Georgia that are STEM certified by the Department of Education out of over 2,000 schools. There are only 10 middle schools certified in the state of Georgia.”
Many schools that apply for STEM certification don’t succeed on the first try. That’s not the case for Cooper, which was certified on the school’s first attempt. During a school ceremony, Lyon described what made Cooper’s STEM program stand out.
First, Cooper’s strong business and community partnership impressed the GADOE STEM team. They were also encouraged to see female students and staff taking leadership roles in the STEM classes because STEM careers have trended toward men in the past. Lyon also praised the school’s administration for providing time for teachers to collaborate on STEM lessons and allowing students to take part in project-based learning. That’s not all.
“We were very impressed that the fifth graders from Clarkdale come over and take classes [at Cooper Middle],” Lyon added. “That is a pretty innovative thing we haven’t seen anywhere in the state of Georgia.”
Lyon’s praise reached beyond the Cooper staff and students.
“The [Cobb County School District] office is really committed and has strong has support for the STEM efforts at Cooper Middle and all the schools in Cobb County that are working on STEM certification,” Lyon said.
A group of Cooper teachers started the journey toward STEM certification about six years ago. During a brainstorming session, the teachers decided to find a way to incorporate STEM.
“We came up with a collaborative block in which math, science and STEM are taught,” said Diane Goldsberry, a science teacher at Cooper Middle. “The students recognize their math, science and STEM teachers as partners.”
Thus, the Cooper STEM Academy was born. According to Goldsberry, Academy students have a higher acceptance rate into high school magnet schools. The Academy’s reach has continued to expand over the years. The Clarkdale partnership grew out of one of the Academy’s expansions.
“Our students feel like big shots when they come over because they are still fifth graders,” said Clarkdale Principal Liss Maynard. “They come over to Cooper and actually have classes in the middle school setting, which gives them a comfort level when they finally come over for their sixth grade year.”
The fifth graders enjoy the math extension classes at Cooper because they are able to learn new material.
“We usually learn about sixth grade math,” said Kaitlyn, a fifth grader at Clarkdale Elementary. “It is pretty challenging, but I like that. We are a little more advanced at Clarkdale, and that’s what I like about math extension.”
The visiting Cooper science teachers are also leaving impressions on the Clarkdale students. One Clarkdale student recalled a Cooper teacher showing his class how electricity works.
“We learned about conductors and insulators,” fifth grader Gerald said. “We did this experiment where we all had to hold hands, and we learned electricity goes through our body.”
Students often ask teachers, “How is this going to help me in life?” The Clarkdale students, who are participating in the math extension program at Cooper Middle, know why the focus on STEM is important.
“It can help you with whatever career you want to do in the future,” said Clarkdale math extension student Abuyanah.