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NCCA receives STEM certification banner
Newton County school officials accept the Georgia Department of Education STEM certification banner from Gilda Lyons, DOE STEM Coordinator (fourth from left) and Felicia Cullers, DOE STEM Program Specialist (far right). (Duane Ford | The Covington News)

On March 6, the Newton College and Career Academy (NCCA) Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Institute received its official Georgia Department of Education STEM certification banner.

In front of an auditorium full of appreciative and enthusiastic students, faculty members and school officials, two officials from the Department of Education—Gilda Lyons, STEM coordinator, and Felicia Cullers, STEM Program Specialist—conferred the banner on behalf of State Superintendent Richard Woods.

In her remarks, Lyons noted, “I don’t know if you realize it or not, but this is a pretty big deal. There are only eight certified high schools in the whole state of Georgia and you are one of them.

“This is the first STEM certified school in Newton County and the very first STEM certified college and career academy in the whole state. We have over a thousand schools working on STEM certification and only 41 have made it so far in seven years. It takes a long time and it’s not something we give away. You have earned it.”

And by “you” Lyons made it clear she meant the STEM Institute’s students. “If you remember the visit, we talked to a whole lot of you,” said Lyons. “That was all we were interested in, what you know and what you could articulate. You earned this certification. It was not your teachers or your principal or anyone else, you did this. It’s really a great thing.”

Shannon Buff, Newton County School System (NCSS) director of secondary education, officially accepted the banner and congratulated the students and teachers.

She gave special recognition to the 24 seniors who were the STEM Institute’s first students and will be its first graduates. “When you began this journey, you started out as the pioneers of this program,” Buff said. “I remember very clearly when I met you for the first time; one of the things you said to me was that you wanted to become a STEM certified school. And guess what, you did it!”

In her remarks, Lyons listed the things that most impressed the certification team that visited the STEM Institute and made the final decision to award STEM certification. That list included the following:

  • The school offers two rigorous, engaging pathways, the engineering pathway and the biotechnology pathway.
  • Weekly flex time which allows students an entire day each week to work in teams on projects of interest to the students. Lyons noted that the NCCA STEM Institute is the only school in Georgia that does such a thing.
  • Female students take prominent leadership roles in the STEM Institute. Lyons noted the national shortage of females working in STEM fields and of males working in the health occupations.
  • The STEM Institute has meaningful and engaged business partnerships which provide real world authentic problems to solve and projects to work on.
  • Students are required to take Latin.
  • The school uses a variety of technology tools and students are producers of digital content, not just consumers of it.
  • There is very strong support from the district office.
  • The students are articulate and very quick to think on their feet. Lyons noted that this is what most impressed the certification team.