"Our state has committed to STEM, especially in the high school and junior high levels, but it is moving into the elementary grades," said Connie Busby, Webster Parish School Board elementary supervisor at Monday night's meeting.
A matrix has been formed that will rank students for placement consideration in STEM classes.
According to Busby, no significant changes to kindergarten classes will be made; however end-of-year Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skill (DIBELS) testing scores will be entered into the matrix for students entering the first grade. Students entering second and third grades will also use DIBELS testing and math grades.
Fourth and fifth grade students will be ranked by iLEAP and LEAP scores.
"We take every child that ranked basic or above into consideration. They are all entered into the matrix. I'm proud to say it was a lot of kids."
Students who are close to making it to the top 50 should not be discouraged, Busby said.
"Once a student is in the program, they do not automatically stay in," she said. "There are expectations of the students, and parents must sign an agreement saying they understand what is required if they are to stay in the program."
Students in the STEM program are expected to keep academic grades of "C" or better, maintain a score of basic or above on all standardized test scores., maintain a grade of "S" in conduct, and attend school regularly.
"A student has one grading period to bring up anything below an "S" and maintain it," Busby said. "Also, the student must attend school in accordance with Louisiana law. If there are extenuating circumstances, it should be brought to the principal's attention."
The program will requalify students at the end of each school year.
"This will allow students who are close to getting into the program an incentive to keep trying, because next year they have another opportunity to get in," Busby said. "The policy will also be reviewed in the spring of every year, to make adjustments to the program as necessary."
STEM classes will be required to follow the same curriculum as other classes, however, there are advantages to being in the STEM program.
"Teachers understand they cannot abandon the curriculum set by the state," Busby said. "The approach and the delivery is the difference when we talk about STEM.
"The idea that we want to push is if we do not incorporate technology into the classroom, we are preparing students for 'our world,'" she continued. "We need to prepare students for 'their world;' their world is technology."
Teachers have the opportunity to incorporate supplemental labs and technology into STEM classes, such as digital media labs, virtual manipulatives and many other resources available online through educational resource companies and locally.
"We really do have rich resources in this area that can help implement this program," Busby said, listing resources such as Sci-port, which partners with the state depart of education for STEM, the Cyber Center, which provides professional development for teachers and workshops for students as well, and Louisiana Tech, which provides development and training for STEM programs and Louisiana Tech's IDEA Place that provides activities for students in the summer.
Three committees were formed to create the STEM program policy. The first was made of central office staff and principals. Those principals then chose teachers to review and make suggestions to ideas of the first committee. Revisions were then sent to a committee of parents, picked by the principals, to review and make final comments to the suggested policy.
According to Busby, applications were available to teachers who desired to teach STEM classes. Principals reviewed the returned applications and selected teachers for the positions.
"As of right now, teachers of the STEM program have varied levels of training and various histories of incorporating technology into their classrooms," she said. "Some have not had an opportunity to include technology due to lack of resources. We know these are some of the obstacles. I have spoken with the teachers and have discussed the process of crating a STEM program will be in baby steps."
According to Busby, funding is an issue.
"There are some costs associated with the (supplemental material)," Busby said. "We will have to look at ways to get funds for that. We will be applying for grants and will definitely have to do fund-raisers and hopefully get PTO's involved in it as well."
Though no funding has been set aside for the program, Minden High School Principal Robin Tucker said the program can still be successful.
"The STEM program at Minden High has been completely self-funded," she said. "The teachers applied for grants and sought out their own training. It has been an initiative sought by the teachers, and the more success we have, the more motivation it has been for them to continue their training."
Tucker said the STEM program at Minden High is completely self funded and has not received any money from the general fund.
Busby said principals outside of Minden have expressed interest in the program as well.
"We would love to see this program in all the schools," she said. "The information has been sent to all the principals and it will be up to their discretion if they implement the program."
Ten spaces are left unoccupied until the beginning of the school year, leaving space available for student transfers from within and into the parish. Principals will maintain a waiting list of students who are next to enter the program. New students will be entered into the matrix and placed on the waiting list according to their rank.
Students who have been selected for the STEM program have already been sent a letter inviting them join. The program is only available through invitation.