Tyra Harris-Thompson

Tyra Harris-Thompson, assistant principal of Kingsley Elementary

Kingsley Elementary is celebrating the school’s designation as the first AdvancEd STEAM certified school in Dunwoody, which recognizes the school’s commitment to science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The rigorous program through AdvancEd, the accreditation organization for primary and secondary schools, seeks to prepare students for today’s careers in information and technology. 

While the majority of schools seek only STEM certification, adding the arts component is equally important to others.

“When I become a principal three years ago it was my goal to become STEM certified,” said Kingsley Elementary Principal Melanie Pearch. “Halfway into the process, our music and art teachers wanted to get involved, so we moved to STEAM.

The arts designation allows students to think beyond science and engineering and explore design principles and innovation within the arts. 

Kingsley teacher Romilia Human said the school took on the challenges required for certification, with an “all hands-on deck” attitude to see the process through to completion.

“We hit the ground running,” Human said. “It usually takes two to three years to gain certification, but we received STEAM certification in a year and a half which is an amazing feat to accomplish.”

The certification process is a multi-pronged focus on all aspects of the school which lead to STEM success. Teachers attended numerous sessions to learn everything from the vocabulary used in STEM standards, to best practices in STEM education, to learning how to create evidence-based learners in the classroom. 

Human noted DeKalb County School System has a great STEM footprint to guide the school through the process which helped along the way.

“Teachers learn how to be a STEM educator through numerous professional learning opportunities to increase the rigor and focus for our students,” she explained.

Not all learning took place in the bricks and mortar of the classroom. Partnerships created in the Kingsley Elementary community led to learning opportunities with the Center for Puppetry Arts, Dunwoody Nature Center, Atlanta Dog Rescue Café and other businesses interested in advancing the STEM experience.

On-site visits from Kennesaw State University’s Maker Bus allowed students the opportunity to experience STEM concepts through hands-on activities.

Human attributes the school’s success to having the right team in place, with the support of all 60-plus teachers, and each of their 500 students, from the 3-4-year-old special education preschoolers to 5th graders. 

 “No one was left behind,” she laughed. “Every student and teacher was involved in the STEM curriculum in some way.

Human said she enjoyed going into the special education classrooms and seeing students engaged in some aspect of STEM, with differentiated instruction to match their capabilities.

Parent involvement was also a key factor in the STEAM certification process, helping out with STEAM Days, schoolwide projects, administrative duties, and simply supporting the goals of the program.

Stephenie Gordon, co-president of the schools Parent Teacher Organization along with Tova Norman, said the enthusiasm of the school-based staff created the momentum.

“Earning the STEAM certification solidifies what parents and educators of Kingsley already know is happening in the classroom – we have students who are excited about collaborative, project-based learning,” Gordon said.

She said the process inspired the students take a different approach to problem-solving and critical thinking.

“The results were amazing…. we have happy kids who love to learn!” Gordon said.

Assistant Principal Tyra Harris-Thompson credits the PTO with providing critical financial support, including funding for an “HGTV-like makeover” to build a STEM lab, and helping to send staff to conferences for professional development.

Kingsley Elementary has incorporated the STEAM enrichment curriculum in numerous ways throughout the school including Problem Based Learning projects in the classroom, a redesigned art studio to encourage artistic behavior, one-to-one Chromebooks for every student, and STEAM-based after-school programs 

Three years after coming on board as principal at Kingsley Elementary, Pearch said the goals she set for the school and a STEAM curriculum are now visible everyday. 

“It was definitely a rigorous journey, but all that work definitely paid off,” Pearch said. “I could not be a prouder principal right now.”

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