My love for scientific inquiry and discovery has allowed me to create engaging learning activities aligned to state/NGSS standards that have ignited a curiosity and excitement for STEM in my classroom. I was honored to be selected as the inaugural recipient for the South Carolina’s STEM Educator of the Year 2019 Award. This opportunity has afforded me the position to improve STEM community engagement, literacy, knowledge, and understanding for all educational stakeholders.
Before I became the recipient of the STEM Educator of the Year, I recall my passion for optimizing learning experiences led me to apply for the Center for Disease Control’s Science Ambassador Fellowship program. In 2018, I was the only teacher in South Carolina accepted into the program. Although this learning excursion was a costly personal investment, I found it to be an exceptional professional development exposure that empowered me to create a first of its kind public health/epidemiology class for my middle school students, which was invaluable. As a fellow, I was compelled to implement the public health/epidemiology curriculum in order to foster interest and excitement in STEM related career possibilities. Similarly, this 2020 Spring Semester, I was inspired to design another unique course, STEAM+C, which engages students in innovative technological and STEM concepts that simulate real-life situations. Both courses have been successfully implemented and have been well-received by students, teachers, and parents.
One project that will be a continuous and thus yearly program, is the School Garden & Educating Instruction Assistance Program. This program is designed to help South Carolina educators create successful school garden classrooms. I had the pleasure to participate with my fellow colleagues at Kelly Mill Med Pro Middle on procuring raised bed plant gardens into the school community. We all received garden-based training developed by Clemson Extension Horticulture and 4-H Youth Development agents. This program is available through a partnership with the College of Charleston Food Systems Change Initiative with funding provided by The Boeing Company S.C.
I earned the honor of receiving the 2019 Presidential Citation Award, in the Education Advocacy category, from the Annual Freedom Fund Celebration Committee and the SC State NAACP Conference. This is a very prestigious honor awarded to an exemplar figure in the field of education and educational advocacy. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Congressmen and women and presidential candidate, Kamala Harris. This was one of my most memorable moments. My mother shared this monumental occasion with me, as we took a picture with one of her favorite political figures. Many thanks to S.C. NAACP State Conference President Brenda C. Murphy for the nomination and the award.
As the year progressed, during the STEM Leadership Alliance Summit I collaborated with education professionals in an intense week long STEM symposium. During this summit, I was able to network with world- renowned leaders in STEM education which inspired me to lead my district to apply for, and subsequently receive a nationwide UBTECH Education Early Innovator Grant.
In October, the District was named one of twenty-two winners in the United States. Kelly Mill Med Pro Middle School was the only recipient in South Carolina to receive the grant. We received 32 Intermediate Robots Kits from UBTECH Robotics, which allowed students to actively engage in the NGSS Engineering Design Practice and develop and enhance their critical thinking, analytical, and collaboration skill sets.
In September of 2019, I joined our partners at Bojangles and SC Teacher of the Year, Chanda Jefferson, at the Darlington Raceway. I had the pleasure of waving the green flag and joining Bojangles CEO Jose Armario in the box to watch the race. This invitation signifies that Bojangles continues to express their commitment to educational excellence and community engagement. Many Thanks to Ms. Debbie Jones for putting us all together and making sure we all stayed connected to our educational partners.
In October, during the annual Middle School Research Teachers Conference, I presented a STEM workshop to professional educators on how to incorporate epidemiology curriculum from the CDC into their classrooms. This annual conference brings 50 middle school STEM teachers to Washington, DC, all-expenses-paid, for a weekend of peer-led professional development hosted by the Society for Science and the Public. During the conference, I attended an Army Educational Outreach Program’s eCYBERMISSION competition workshop. This proved to be a great opportunity and I expanded my students’ exposure to STEM topics and careers by introducing them to a nationwide STEM competition. eCYBERMISSION is a web-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) competition for students in grades six through nine that promotes self-discovery and enables all students to recognize the real-life applications of STEM. Students compete for State, Regional, and National Awards. This year one of my sixth grade teams placed in the top 3 teams for the state of South Carolina and will receive savings bonds for college for their participation and placement! This was an extraordinary exposure that proved that partnerships can be fostered from these conferences and incorporated in classroom environments in order for students to take their educational experience to the next level. A special thanks to Ms. Tamu Turner, the NSTA STEM Academia Outreach Specialist who was the eCYBERMISSION competition workshop presenter. Ms. Turner provided us with mini-grant funding information, discussed the FREE resources that are available to teachers, students, and all stakeholders participating in the eCYBERMISSION competition, and made herself available to support and guide the mini-grant recipients throughout the duration of the eCYBERMISSION competition!
Beyond the boundaries of my own school district, I was involved in several STEM programs and efforts that developed strategies and addressed the disparities that exist in STEM education. One notable and equitable opportunity included a free summer cybersecurity camp for minority students that was created in partnership with Dr. Leon Geter and Benedict College. I also helped launch a Robotics competition for students in the midlands area. Lastly, I am currently volunteering as an Advisory Board Member for University of South Carolina’s Apple Core Initiative. Per the initiative, prospective educators from underrepresented populations, especially minority males, are given the opportunity to work with students within school districts around the state and expose them to careers in education. I enjoyed working with undergraduate students that will soon be outstanding teachers within the state of South Carolina!
In August 2019, I participated in the Wix Web Development with teachers in the Midlands area. This was an extraordinary opportunity that was facilitated with professors from the University of South Carolina School of Hospitality, Retail, and Sports Management. It allowed me and other teachers to learn the facets of web development through WIX’s web-based platform. WIX is a cloud-based web development tool that allows users to add functionality such as social plug-ins, e-commerce, online marketing, contact forms, email marketing, and community forums through their web sites using a variety of WIX-developed and third-party applications. This professional development opportunity proved to be an excellent tool to use in my classroom.
A special “Thank You” to ETV for featuring me in one of their episodes of “Carolina Classrooms.” This broadcast featured a plethora of talented educators around the state. I was honored to be among fellow teachers that also include STEAM activities in their classrooms. The program showcased the 2020 South Carolina Teacher of the Year, Chanda Jefferson, and Oakdale Elementary STEAM teacher, Jolandra White, and others. The episode also highlighted a visit to the South Carolina State Museum, with Education Manager Laura Ybarra Kane, who exposed teachers on how to integrate science experiments in their classrooms.
During this past year, I have had the pleasure to attend and present in several conferences and educational forums related to STEM and Underrepresented students in several communities in South Carolina and across the nation. I’ve also had opportunities to meet people, develop ideas, raise visibility, and get inspired in providing STEM awareness to students and educational professionals alike. To help me achieve a successful STEM Educator of Year experience, Ms. Debbie Jones made sure I worked hand in hand with organizations such as Comporium and SC Future Minds. The SC Coalition for Mathematics & Science provided me with inspirational and energizing opportunities that helped me advance my career as a professional STEM educator. I remember meeting Laurabree Monday and having the nervous but wonderful experience in Rock Hill, SC to sit in a CN2 studio for an interview. This is such a beautiful organization that really understands the importance of STEM education in South Carolina. With their help I made important contacts with professional educators, and I have been privileged to travel to some amazing places. Some of the conferences I have presented at include:
The STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative hosts bi-annual Community of Practice Convening for all participating STEM Learning Ecosystems. The Community of Practice Convening provides the key platform for a national and regional peer-to-peer professional learning network for communities to share information and expertise. Members of the Community of Practice help shape the agenda for the convening with access to STEM and cross-sector collaboration experts from across the nation.
The UBTECH Robotics Company and John Rhee General Manager of North America, gave me the opportunity to speak on a panel in San Antonio, Texas about how robotics could be used in everyday classrooms such as social studies or even ELA. In addition, communities have the opportunity to participate in monthly Community of Practice phone calls/web-based meetings with national, state and regional speakers (including grant makers, STEM experts, cross-collaboration experts, and education policy experts) and maintain communication and share resources through a web-based platform.
As time progressed throughout the school year, I’ve had the privilege to work with educational professionals to address the nation’s STEM teacher shortage. We shared insights gleaned from the Teacher Forum with the entire 100Kin10 network and the field through the development of solutions-focused research, blog posts, and the creation of our annual 100Kin10 Trends Report. The organization is committed to tackling systemic challenges and getting 100,000 excellent STEM teachers into classrooms nationwide by giving STEM teachers the support they need to educate the next generation of innovators and problem solvers.
As the school year whines down, schools are continuing with remote instruction, or e-learning, through the rest of the academic year after the state closed all K-12 schools to fight the spread of COVID-19. The change calls for curriculum to not only be delivered differently, but also with a great deal of flexibility. We all have to adjust not only how we direct the students in our online classes but adjust how we live at home as well. As time goes on with this “New Normal”; students, teachers, parents, and administrators are finding ways to adapt and improvise. We are not sure what the future holds in the up-coming year, but I know we will get through this period and time. Through all this, I’m personally finding new ways to instruct my students and making sure they are being educated and prepared for the world that awaits them. I ask my students during our Google Hangout session or Zoom session, “What new skills did you’ll learn today? What are you doing to prepare yourself to help change the world?” These are the kinds of skills that students develop in science, technology, engineering and math—disciplines collectively known as STEM. With this, my students will become successful not matter what the future holds.
Personally, I would not have had half of the success this year without the support of Richland School District Two and my Kelly Mill Med Pro Middle School family. They have supported me throughout this process as STEM Educator of Year and have motivated me to continue to become a better teacher/mentor. It’s more important than ever that our nation’s youth are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems and use STEM curriculum to the forefront of our classrooms. With that said, I can honestly can say that our state, the school districts, our schools, and our students strive for that every day.
Thank you all for a beautiful year and as always, “Become Better Than You Were Yesterday”.