JIS extends STEM program beyond classroom walls

Published 4:37 pm Monday, August 12, 2019

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Jemison Intermediate School has come a long way since it started three years ago and will soon be taking its biggest leap forward.

The school is making plans to add an outdoor classroom on the back side of the current facility.

According to JIS STEM teacher Rachel Mims, the outdoor classroom will be an extension of the school’s STEM program, which also began three years ago.

The current site for the outdoor classroom is in the early stages of development but does have six raised garden beds that were paid for by a bicentennial grant.

“It is a community service project where we will donate whatever we grow to somebody in the community,” Mims said.

One of the goals that was in JIS Principal D.J. Nix’s mind from the beginning was that he wanted all students to have the ability to take part in the outdoor classroom.

As a result, every student at JIS and Jemison Elementary School will get their time with the outdoor classroom.

“The whole school will be working out there are some point,” Mims said.

JIS Principal D.J. Nix said STEM teacher Rachel Mims is always “thinking outside the box”. The school’s life-size chessboard is an example of that. (Photo by Anthony Richards)

Cooperation with Jemison High School and the other schools in the county who wish to use the outdoor classroom for activities or field trips is also expected to take place.

“That was all part of the plan,” Nix said. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way, unless every student can touch the STEM program.”

The next step in the process is to build a pavilion to provide a shaded learning area for students.

“It makes it efficient so that they [students] don’t have to be in the sun when they go out there,” Mims said.

A large portion of the funds for the pavilion is coming from former Rep. Jimmy Martin’s education fund.

Construction of the pavilion is expected to start in the fall.

“It will be a place to take STEM outside and offer real world experiences,” Mims said. “Instead of just talking about photosynthesis, you can actually get hands-on and see a plant grow.”

According to Nix, JIS will have one of about 15 outdoor classrooms throughout the state.

The school is even working with the Alabama Wildlife Federation in an attempt to have the classroom certified.

“This would be monumental and unheard of for this area,” Nix said.

Nix, Mims and Kelsey Watkins are each planning to attend a conference in San Antonio, Texas, to be further trained to be lead STEM teachers that can in turn pass along the knowledge and train others.

“We will be a cutting edge STEM program and something the community can enjoy,” Nix said.

The final paperwork has been submitted to become a “STEM school” through AdvancEd.