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PLTW leadership discusses long-term goals

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Opportunities to expand Project Lead the Way were discussed with PLTW teachers from Jemison and Clanton schools during a time of updates and planning on Aug. 5.

One of the major goals for Jay LeCroy, who has been involved with the implementation of PLTW and STEM courses throughout Chilton County Schools, is to provide Project Lead the Way opportunities to students in every school.

Because of a shortage of space and lack of funding for a teacher based on average daily attendance at Verbena, Maplesville, Thorsby and Isabella, free summer camp programs are being considered as the current best option.

Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit organization created by high school engineering teachers to develop an engineering curriculum and has grown to include options for preschool to 12th grade in biomedical science, computer science and engineering.

“We really want to focus on making sure every kid has the opportunity to try their hand at these things, especially in the elementary and middle school timeline because that is when they are making decisions for their future — ‘Do I see myself as a math student or as a STEM student or having a future in a STEM career?’” Nancy Blanco, director of school engagement for Alabama with PLTW, said. “Most of them have already decided that before they even get to middle school. Early positive STEM experiences are super important.”

It has been offered in Clanton and Jemison schools for elementary to high school for a few years now.

LeCroy said this was the first year that students applying to the STEM Academy had experience in the subject areas.

Eighth grade students from Clanton who applied brought data notebooks of projects that they had worked on.

Students from the K-12 schools usually do not apply to the STEM Academy until 10th grade and most have no prior experience with the content area.

Chilton County Schools Superintendent Jason Griffin said there are several parents interested in the opportunity.

“It may just be a handful the first year, but at least we would answer the question of equality and access,” Griffin said.

LeCroy said starting offering something for elementary students first would be a good plan.

Blanco spearheaded a PLTW summer camp at the school system she worked at in the past and offered the Chilton County teachers tips and a timeline that would be good to follow if they were going to be ready by summer 2020.

The program has now been offered for two years and spots fill up each year.

Implementing PLTW summer camps would require training more teachers. The county has at least two teachers qualified to train. However, PLTW also offers a District Transformation Training where a master level PLTW instructor would come train up to 24 teachers for a set fee. Blanco said her school system used Title funds to pay for the training.

LeCroy said the current PLTW teachers would be lead teachers for the summer camp programs.

Griffin asked LeCroy to get a plan together with projected cost to offer the program that he could submit to the Board of Education.

In Blanco’s program, the camp ended with a showcase of the students’ projects attended by school board members, parents and local media.

She said making it fun was a key to making it successful.

If such a program is offered, transportation would be the parents’ responsibility.

Blanco gave several updates to the teachers about changes to PLTW, including adding an end of course assessment and making the elementary and middle school programs compatible with Chromebooks.

The programs are now aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards for Alabama and the computer science components will meet the new state requirement to offer computer science at each level of K-12 education.