Students thrive in STEM program
JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS Brian Feick, Lehighton Area School District business manager, won the 2015 National Stem Plus Education Leadership Award for his efforts in securing a Qualified Zone Academy Bond to help start a STEM Plus Academy in the district.
Not even a full year old, Lehighton Area School District's "STEM Plus Academy" is already reaping dividends for elementary school students.
Assistant Middle School Principal Charles Bachert said the STEM academy science, technology, engineering and math started in Lehighton in late October for students in third through sixth grades.
Lehighton uses the SuccessMaker program, a personalized digital curriculum geared toward helping students improve in English language arts and math.
"Each student works about 50-60 minutes a week per subject," said Bachert, who also directs the academy at Lehighton.
Before using SuccessMaker, students took placement tests to determine their starting grade level.
"For example, you might have a sixth-grade student who only tests a 4.2 in reading or math, which would be a level of fourth grade and two months," Bachert said.
From there, students put in the work and the goal is to go up one grade level in 25-27 weeks.
Lehighton partnered with the National Education Foundation and the State University of New York to bring the academy locally, making the district one of 38 in the country to participate.
"They gave us 750 user licenses for SuccessMaker and $17,000 for program incentives," Bachert said.
Through the year, students could earn Indian Bucks, which were then put in a raffle giving them the chance to win an iPad.
The student with the most growth at each grade level also won an iPad. Classes with the most growth every two weeks earned a pizza party. The classes at each grade level with the most overall growth took a trip to the Franklin Institute. The teacher of the classroom with the most growth at each grade level received a $500 grant.
"It really worked well," Bachert said. "I think we bought 123 pizzas and almost 100 students went to the Franklin Institute. We received that $17,000 and used almost all of it."
Students and faculty also noticed the changes brought on through SuccessMaker.
"I really liked watching my score move up the chart as I made progress," said Alyssa Frey, a fifth-grade student. "At the end you can get prizes if you are the most improved, and that was neat."
Other students noted SuccessMaker was not overbearing because of the one hour per week time limit per subject.
"I think it kept the students interested," said Mary Barilla, third-grade teacher at East Penn Elementary. "It doesn't require a lot of planning, which saves time on our end. Students were always looking forward to coming to class, and I never heard a complaint from them."
Lehighton is looking to bring kindergarten through second-grade students into the program during the next rollout.
Helping to fund the program was part of an $8.45 million Qualified Zone Academy Bond, a low-interest bond from the U.S. Department of Education, which the district received last year.
"The allocation for the STEM program was 10 percent of the QZAB bonds, or $847,000," Business Manager Brian Feick said. "That amount, in turn, was given to us by NEF as a private contribution in the form of services, software and licenses, stipends and incentives. NEF has agreed to continue this level of contribution for five years and a total of $4.2 million." Feick was awarded the National Stem Plus Education Leadership Award for his efforts in securing the QZAB.
"I was very surprised and honored," Feick said. "The program is doing very well for only being up and running for a short time. I'm hoping we get another QZAB so we can expand the STEM program even more."
In addition to the Educator of the Year, NEF also gives out an annual STEM Plus Academy of the Year honor.
It's a goal Lehighton is hoping to reach.
"This year, a school from Ohio won it and the NEF founder went to the school and did a dance at 73 years old," Bachert said. "We're planning to give them a run for their money next year."