NW FL DAILY NEWS 9 October,2016

VALPARAISO — Five years after the STEMM Academy opened in Valparaiso, school officials say they are growing and students are saying the workload is worth the rigor.

Beginning in the sixth grade, students are immersed in advanced and interdisciplinary courses. By the time they leave middle school, they have the opportunity to enter high school with extra credits. “Our elective courses do a better job of coordinating the rigor,” Principal Wanda Avery said. “They do a lot of real life applications. What’s important is the linkage between the real world.”

Classes, which operate on a 100-minute block schedule, range from earth space science to information and communication technology. The school also has a one-to-one technology ratio and classes are split evenly between lessons and labs to reinforce learning, sixth grade science teacher Kimberly Gasaway said.

“It’s productive for teachers, especially with science,’ Gasaway said. “You aren’t crunched for time.”  Another advantage to the school is the small class sizes, she said.  “We are able to support everyone here,” Gasaway said.

Gus.PNG                              robot buddies.PNG

Gus used to attend Destin Middle School. The 12-year-old seventh grader said he came to the STEMM Center because the only elective he had at his other school was computer class. Now, he said he is building robots. 

“It’s different from any school I’ve been to,” Fontenot said. “The teachers are so much more interested. It’s worth the challenges.”

Not just any student can attend the STEMM Center though. Avery said students have to score in the upper percentile in math, science and reading to receive an invitation to the school. It’s so competitive that Avery said they get families from out of state and country. “It’s growing,” she said. “If students want to be here and they have good work ethic, they can be successful.”

Avery said the school does lose a few early every year because the transition can be rough for some, but staff does everything they can to ensure that students are successful.

Alexis Lawrence said she received an invitation to the school and discovered that the atmosphere was exactly what she needed.

“Usually school is easy,” the 12-year-old seventh grade student said. “Now that I’ve come here, it’s a challenge. But I believe the challenge helps you grow. I think I’d be bored at a regular school.”

She said she sees some kids where the work “goes over their head,” but she’s also seen success stories.

“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses,” Lawrence said. “But if they put forth the effort they can overcome.”

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