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Avondale Elementary School receives STEM certification

Avondale Estates

Avondale Elementary School receives STEM certification

FILE PHOTOS: The Avondale Elementary School Education Foundation was created in 2016 by parents, community members and the school principal. The foundation had a mural on the school building and has continued to raise money for various projects and improvements at the school Photo submitted by Stephen Smith.
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By Zoe Seiler, contributor

Avondale Estates, GA — Avondale Elementary School is now a Cognia STEM certified school. The school has implemented science, technology, engineering and math courses and programs for several years in preparation for the certification.

The Cognia evaluators look at four domains — STEM community, learning culture, experiences and outcomes — and the school is measured against 16 standards.

“We have to sort of paint the picture of our journey, right. Where we started from, where we’re at presently and where we want to be,” Avondale Elementary School Principal Dontae Andrews said.

Within the evaluation process, interviews are conducted with students, parents, teachers, the school leadership and business partners. Using the interviews and other documentation and data, the Cognia evaluators rate the school using the four domains. The school exceeded all the domains and standards, Andrews said.

Once that process is finished, the evaluators present their findings to the school to show the results of the interviews, other artifacts and videos.

Andrews remembered the third slide of the presentation said “congratulations, you’re now a STEM certified school” and he stopped the presenter before moving to the fourth slide. The leadership team took a moment to celebrate and started jumping and shouting in excitement, prompting the secretary to check to see if everything was alright.

“That was exciting and then of course we settled down and got through the rest of the findings but as soon as we were done with that … the next thing I went to was the over-the-school mic to announce that we’re STEM certified and so it was exciting,” Andrews said.

The certification validates the school and the STEM programs it has in place, Andrews said.

“We’re already an IB school and so our school is already based on inquiry-based learning and real world experiences and so with STEM we’re able to build on that, because with STEM it’s the same thing — inquiry based learning, bringing those real world experiences, solving problems, right, as relates to real world situations,” he added.

Andrews has been at Avondale Elementary School for about seven years and when he came to the school they were seeking the STEM certification, but the staff had to implement a few things first.

“We have a Mac lab for our students and also a PC lab so students are able to be versed in both of those worlds when it comes to technology and just exposing the kids to coding, robotics, things of that nature,” Andrews said.

About two years ago, the school implemented a STEM lab so students can have hands-on experiences and learning. The school also has a STEM garden and the Avondale Elementary School Education Foundation will soon establish an outdoor STEM classroom.

Many students come from low socioeconomic settings so the school gives them the opportunity to be exposed to STEM and work with computers, drones or 3D printers, and experiment with robots and coding.

The older students get excited about STEM and a STEM learning environment is normal for Avondale Elementary, Andrews said. Once a month, the school has days called “engineering for a day” when everything is hands-on, project based learning and students get to collaborate with each other.

“I think, overall, it’s just normal life to them,” Andrews said. “They come to school, they all experiment, get to participate in our STEM lab, they all get to participate in the computer lab and the experiences in the classroom and so I think to them it’s normal being that we’re a STEM certified school.”

“We call it the Avondale way,” he added.

The teachers are also exposed to professional development, through the STEM certification, that allows them to strengthen the teaching and learning in their classrooms.

“We now have a STEM teacher, and our STEM teacher has been very instrumental, Ms. Brenda Walker, in helping to pull all of this stuff together, to package it up in a way that we can become a STEM certified school,” Andrews said.

Andrews added that what helped in the process was the teachers and staff, and that they supported the vision without giving up even in the middle of a pandemic.

“During this time, during the pandemic, we obtained our IB recertification and also a STEM certification so it’s been quite a journey but a rewarding one,” Andrews said.

The goal now is to keep the momentum going, build on the program and sustain the program, Andrews said, so that regardless of the school leadership and teachers, the STEM program will be sustainable.

“We’re just excited so it was a good way to go out on spring break being a STEM certified school,” Andrews said. “I think we are the 30th STEM certified school in DeKalb County and so we’re happy to be part of the Cognia community, and also just being part of the STEM community for DeKalb County Schools.”

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