First group of girls off to a strong (virtual) start!
As Fayette County Public Schools prepares for the 2020-21 school year, youngsters enrolled in the Rise STEM Academy for Girls are already settling in. The new program, which has welcomed 150 students in grades K-2, offered a virtual Exploratory Week for instructors and their classes Aug. 3-7. One day, for instance, a kindergarten teacher guided her kids through a water experiment mixing primary colors.
With in-person school still on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic, educators are all about creativity and flexibility as they reconnect with students across the district. At Rise, an added wrinkle is that everything is a first. “Our families are having to figure out how to be at a new school, so our focus is on building relationships with students and making sure they understand the opportunities at Rise and learning some awesome STEM curriculum along the way,” said Jessica Greene, the administrative dean.
Greene brings experience from last fall when she helped launch Brenda Cowan Elementary. “The STEM Academy focus on really reaching girls of color was intriguing, and catching them at this early age could change their trajectory. That was the hook for me,” she said of her move across town to the former Linlee Elementary building.
This magnet program, which will eventually include grades K-8, uses a lottery for admission and targets economically disadvantaged girls of color. “This isn’t something that’s done everywhere. It was driven by the district’s desire to make sure we’re creating an inclusive environment for all students,” said Program Director Jennifer Jacobs, who most recently served in Chicago Public Schools. “When we look at our STEM industry, we know it’s dominated primarily by white males. If we want to be a global change agent, we need to start from the ground up,” she noted.
STEM – which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math – is a major focus districtwide as FCPS emphasizes development of real-world skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and problem solving. “A cornerstone of our program is to make sure we’re giving all girls – regardless of their ZIP code – an opportunity. We have to create a space where our girls feel confident and see themselves as leaders,” Jacobs said.
She cited one of the signature components, the Rise and Shine morning circle, where students will start each day together with mutual encouragement. In addition, teachers will tie in various disciplines throughout the day as cohesive project-based learning enables the girls to make real-world connections ranging from engineering design to the value of perseverance.
“Opening a brand-new school in a district I’m unfamiliar with is a challenge all in itself. Then to also need to navigate the pandemic and to think really differently about how we deliver high-quality instruction – it’s really become the definition of flexible and fluid in your thinking,” Jacobs said. “When I think about distance learning, the stakes are really high. We had several months of NTI (in the spring), and in some sense it was a Band-Aid. Now you have to think about students amassing new knowledge, and you have to think about those with strong gaps in their foundation and how to fill those.”
“I’m truly grateful for the strong leadership team I have,” Jacobs said. “Those are exactly the type of skills we want our young scholars to have, and we have to be flexible in our thinking to make it happen.”
(Posted Aug. 5, 2020)