1) Provide a general description of the learning experiences in which the STEM students were most successful. Additionally, generally describe the learning experiences that need improvement for greater student success.
Forest Lake Elementary opened in 1957. It is one of the oldest elementary schools in Richland School District Two. In 2005, Forest Lake was designated a technology magnet school and served as the model for the district’s 1 TWO 1 computing model. In 2006, we were chosen to become one of twenty-five schools from across the United States to become a NASA Explorer School. We have used this designation and the resources available to us through NASA to provide ongoing professional development for our faculty. Learning experiences that include NASA’s Digital Learning Network, NASA Now videos, NASA Picture of the Day, and NASA lessons have ignited student interest in STEM curriculum and careers. Through our partnership with NASA, we have expanded our skills to design additional STEM experiences that enrich our students’ STEM learning. In the NASA Lab, students participate in hands-on problem-based learning experiences. Civil Air Patrol resources and lessons have been an engaging supplement to our NASA Lab’ curriculum. The addition of the Project Lead the Way Launch program in 2015 has deepened our students’ understanding of the engineering design process through participation in authentic problem-based learning.
Our biggest challenge is providing support for both new faculty members as well as new students. Many teachers come to Forest Lake with little technology experience and little or no knowledge of NASA. Monthly “Coke and Conversation” meetings are held for all teachers that are new to Forest Lake. These afternoon sessions provide time for new technologies to be introduced and practiced as well as a time for sharing information about NASA resources.
New students also require intensive technological support. Along with additional assistance and instruction from teachers, new students collaborate with experienced students to gain necessary skills and become comfortable using cutting-edge technology. These new students are amazed by the amount of technology which they have readily available to them as they complete their research, design their presentations, or complete authentic projects.
2) Provide examples of how the STEM educators and facilitators implement and sustain the core tenants of an effective and age-appropriate STEM curriculum.
Forest Lake offers multiple opportunities for STEM integration and inclusion. Teachers meet bi-weekly by grade level in the Collaboration Room to discuss specific unit plans to ensure that core tenants of the STEM curriculum and state standards are aligned effectively.
Each day begins with a “NASA News” report on our morning news show, Forest Lake Today. Many teachers continue with an inclusion of the NASA Picture of the Day as part of their Morning Meeting. Others choose to end their day with this great academic conversation starter. “NASA Now” videos, lessons, and Digital Learning Network (DLN) sessions are incorporated into grade level science and social studies units. Our NASA partners work with us to modify these sessions to ensure that they are grade- and age-appropriate. STEM field studies and visits to our own STARLab enrich units of study as well.
All students attend NASA Lab and Project Lead the Way classes. Lessons and hands-on activities are personalized to each grade level or band in order to best meet the STEM needs of the students. Our annual STEAMfest offers all students additional opportunities to expand their STEM knowledge. Our grand STEM finale for the year is a school-wide immersion into a NASA topic. These activities help bring our year to a close and allow us to set the stage for next year.
AdvancED Executive Summary
Opening in 1957, Forest Lake Elementary is one of the oldest elementary schools in Richland School District Two. In 2005, Forest Lake was designated a technology magnet school and served as the model for the district’s 1 TWO 1 computing model. In 2006, we were chosen to become one of twenty-five schools from across the United States to become a NASA Explorer School.
Situated in a suburban neighborhood and participating in the district’s magnet/choice program, Forest Lake Elementary NASA Explorer School serves children from both the school’s zoned neighborhood as well as from across Richland Two. Our school’s attendance zone includes a variety of residences to include, apartment buildings, mobile homes, duplexes, and single-family houses. The apartments and mobile homes tend to cater to young families while the single-family homes and duplexes are located within a long-established, multi-generational neighborhood. This neighborhood is currently seeing an upsurge of families with young children. We are excited to welcome these new neighborhood families to our school community.
Forest Lake houses 549 students in 34 preschool through fifth grade classes and five special education classes. Of these 549 students, 18% receive special education services, 9% are English Language Learners, 18% receive Tier 2 or Tier 3 assistance through supplemental RTI instruction, and 7% have been identified and participate in our district’s gifted and talented program. Our school is a dual magnet program. All students are part of our whole-school NASA Explorer School program while 29% of our students are part of our program within the school magnet, the Elementary Learning Collaborative.
Our students represent a variety of cultures, ethnicities, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic levels. The majority of our students are African American (61.2%) and Caucasian (24%). Hispanic (6.4%), Multiracial (4.6%), Asian (3.6%), and American Indian (<1%) students make up the rest of our population. The population of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program is 55.7%. Changes in the neighborhood dynamics are bringing even more diversity to our school’s population. Due in some part to our school’s proximity to Fort Jackson and the surrounding apartment complexes, approximately one third of our population transitions in and/or out of the school during the school year.
Our diverse staff of seventy-five includes thirty regular education classroom teachers, five special education classroom teachers, five special area teachers, three administrators, two resource teachers, two speech language pathologists, a reading coach, interventionist, technology learning coach, magnet program lead, school counselor, librarian, office staff, and teaching assistants. Our school shares a second PE teacher, two gifted and talented teachers, ELL teacher, parent educator, career specialist, school psychologist, and social worker with other schools within our district. Our faculty of 56 holds a variety of degrees, certifications, and specializations to include Advanced Degree (41%), Early Childhood (36%), Elementary (34%), Gifted and Talented Endorsement (25% ), Special Education (18%), and National Board Certification (8%). Twenty-nine percent of our teachers are in either their first or second year at Forest Lake. The members of our faculty and staff are dedicated to serving the students of our school and all strive to meet the needs of the children entrusted to our care.
In the past three years, our school has gone through many changes. We added a second magnet program (The Elementary Learning Collaborative) in 2015. This program meets the needs of motivated students that show the potential for high achievement. Beginning with two classes in kindergarten through second grade, this year we added two third grade classes and the program will eventually run through fifth grade.
Our staff has encountered a great deal of turnover resulting primarily from family moves and retirement. Both assistant principals are new this year due to promotions and 45% of our teachers are either in their first or second year at Forest Lake. We have added four full-time support staff members during the past three years, Interventionist, NASA Lab Instructor, Reading Coach, and Magnet Program Lead. Our Project Lead the Way Launch program is the first in our district and is in its second year of engaging students in engineering design problem-based activities.
The designation of a CoLaboratory space is making hands-on science investigations easier to manage as teachers can work together to set up experiments for the whole grade. A recent grant awarded to one of our teachers has provided a cart full of supplies that teachers can use to complete activities. As teams look to the new nine weeks, they determine the best time for their hands-on activities and then request that those days be reserved for their team.
We look to the future with excitement and great expectations and know we will see the results of our fresh, positive faculty and staff and to what we can accomplish as we work together for the benefit of our students!