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Pioneering for tomorrow
West Newton becomes countys first elementary school with full STEM program
KiTonya McCoy, West Newton Elementary’s STEM teacher, said students have asked every day when they get to see the frogs they will dissect during the school year. West Newton is the county’s first elementary school to have a STEM program and competitive Lego Robotics Team. - photo by Kayla Robins/The Covington News

Frogs, chickens, rockets and Legos.

And that’s just one class.

West Newton Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders are taking part in the county’s first elementary school STEM program and competitive Lego Robotics Team.

Although STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) aspects are being incorporated into lessons throughout the grades, the two oldest grades will actually spend a class period in the brand new, brightly painted STEM room.

Boxes of the highest model Lego kits, able to include sound, lighting and electronic movement, stack the shelves of Ms. KiTonya McCoy’s classroom, which she said teachers have been coming in to look at the finished product. Each wall is painted a different color, with the green and yellow walls sitting in between blue and purple.

“I want to increase the joy for learning,” McCoy said, “because you can’t learn without enjoying it.”

Lego Robotics Team members will be able to build robots to solve a scenario for regional competitions. Previously, McCoy said, teams at other schools had to repair a city after a natural disaster with their Lego robots.

“I wanted to get kids involved in something totally different than a typical classroom,” McCoy said.

She said STEM, even as early as elementary school, allows students experiences they would not have outside of school. Students may not know they can be an engineer if they don’t see that profession already in the family.

Representatives from each grade level have been working together since last year to put the program together for the around 250 fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Thursday was the first day the students had class in the new room, McCoy, who has been at West Newton for seven years and in the school district for 14, talked to students about what STEM is and some possible careers that can come of the STEM education.

McCoy said she was surprised to hear how much they already knew about STEM careers, with marine biology, computer programming and veterinarian professions ranking high on the list. McCoy said she knew they like video games, so she introduced them to computer coding.

Throughout the year, STEM students will dissect more than 250 frogs, hatch chicken eggs, launch about 150 rockets and build mechanical arms, bridges and towers. They will get to wear hardhats during the engineering segments and build a garden, and all of these supplies and projects have not – and will not – produce any extra cost to students or parents.

“Our hope is that when they grow up, they will continue to want to learn more and continue on this path,” McCoy said.
“Every year, we reinvent ourselves and ask what we need to do to better ourselves,” said West Newton Principal Dr. Takila Meadows-Curry.

Curry, who has been at West Newton for six of her 13 years in the district, said her goal for the school and its STEM program is to become certified with the state, which takes three years of meeting requirements. The low turnover rate in teachers hopefully will help solidify this plan and keep a consistency that is needed for multiple-year goals, she said.
“We know it’s a huge undertaking,” Curry said. “It won’t happen overnight, but they’re up for the challenge.”