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MAC Elementary earns STEM certification

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

Maconaquah Elementary School joined rare company on Friday.

Out of the more than 2,000 K-12 schools in Indiana, the Braves became just the 60th to be STEM-certified by the Indiana Department of Education.

“We are excited about that news, we’ve worked really hard to achieve that certification,” said Mac El Principal Kelly McPike. “It’s been an entire staff effort.”

About five years ago, the elementary school staff began dreaming up a scenario of introducing kids to science, technology, engineering and mathematics after visiting a few STEM-certified elementary schools in southern Indiana.

“The biggest motivating factor was student success,” McPike said.

To accommodate the 21st century learners, McPike said the teaching had to evolve. So, the school began intertwining STEM-based learning into each classroom with problem-based, real-life units. For example, a fourth grade class is currently learning the engineering techniques and designs that pioneers or Native Americans would have used during the early 19th century—all while maintaining Indiana state standards, according to McPike.

The next big step was opening up a STEM lab back in August of 2016 and transitioning elementary teacher Carrie Kelly to a full-time STEM instructor. “I really commend our schoolboard for supporting that kind of initative,” McPike said.

For 40 minutes once a week, students dive into science, solve engineering dilemmas, apply mathematical skills and utilize tech.

And the students seem to love it.

“It almost feels like it’s play because it’s a different approach to instruction,” McPike said. “Engagement is higher, and the students are more actively involved in their own learning. There’s a lot of teamwork.”

About 20 of Indiana’s 60 STEM schools are elementary schools – signaling that educators are not waiting to approach kids with important lessons for today’s world. “It tells you where our future is moving,” said Adam Baker of IDOE.

“We see that pay off as students become better problem solvers and critical thinkers,” McPike said. “We continue to grow and learn and do more and more with STEM.”

Maconaquah Superintendent Doug Arnold thanked McPike, Kelly, and all of Mac El’s staff for their commitment to innovation. “They have worked diligently and are most deserving of this recognition,” Arnold said in a press release.

Mac El is the first Miami County elementary school to earn the distinction, and the second Miami County school – Maconaquah Middle School became STEM-certified in 2015.

Since any school can become a STEM school, Baker recommends that school leaders reach out to IDOE and begin the process.

“At its most rudimentary core, teaching kids about STEM is going to expand their minds,” Baker said.