According to Amana’s Executive Director, Ehab Jaleel, “an integral part of the charter paradigm is that charter schools should be crucibles of innovation in education; and sharing those innovative practices with other schools, and even among industry professionals which serves to strengthen education for all students, not just those who attend a particular school”.
According to the STEMGeorgia website (stemgeorgia.org), “The Georgia Department of Education is dedicated to preparing students for 21st Century workplace careers by providing high quality educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics fields. In Georgia, STEM and STEAM education is an integrated curriculum that is driven by exploratory project-based learning and student-centered development of ideas and solutions.” To become a STEM or STEAM certified school through the Department of Education, schools must undergo a three-year, nine-step process that includes visiting an already-certified school to observe integrated STEM in action.
Amana Academy, a charter Fulton County public school in Alpharetta, GA that serves students in grades K-8 who reside in the district, is one of only five certified STEM schools in Fulton County, and the only middle school to have earned the title. Since becoming STEM certified, Amana has hosted hundreds of educators from across the state and around the globe who are interested in implementing STEM education in their own classrooms and schools. According to Amana’s Executive Director, Ehab Jaleel, “an integral part of the charter paradigm is that charter schools should be crucibles of innovation in education; and sharing those innovative practices with other schools, and even among industry professionals which serves to strengthen education for all students, not just those who attend a particular school”.
Several times a year, Amana hosts STEM\\venture Days, a chance for educators from across the state to observe Amana’s unique Expeditionary STEM program in action. They invite schools who are interested in becoming STEM certified, along with industry professionals who are looking for ways to partner with schools to bring real-world STEM experiences to students. Their latest invitation drew innovators from the Atlanta Science Festival’s Georgia Chief Science Officer program, Kimberly Clark, Delta Community Credit Union, and even State Representative Brenda Lopez.
Amana’s unique set of educational approaches centers on the Harvard-based EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) model and is focused on fulfilling Amana’s mission of preparing students for high academic achievement beyond what they think possible, so that they become active contributors to building a better world. A unique feature of EL Education schools are the 6-12 week learning expeditions that students embark on each semester, which culminate in exhibitions called Celebrations of Learning where students share out what they’ve learned with their families and community members. Students are faced with a guiding question such as “Can we find solutions to global water issues?” or “How can we help our local amphibian population?” and then are tasked with using what they are learning in the classroom (standards-based lessons) to solve these real-world problems. The school’s leadership saw a direct connection between the structure of a learning expedition (guiding question, research and fieldwork, data collection, drafts and revisions, and exhibition to a real audience) and the design thinking process that engineers and scientists use. Angelique Barnett, STEM Director at Amana, says, “layering STEM on top of the expedition process has served to deepen the experience for students and strengthen their critical-thinking and problem solving skills. Students are exposed to real-world problems, and are asked to come up with real-world solutions. They have to really grapple with new ideas and perspectives, and they feel responsible for coming up with workable solutions.”
This has led the school to become a mentor school for both EL Education, and the Georgia Charter Schools Association – they have hosted three different fellows who are looking to start their own charter schools in the next three years – as well as a destination for other Georgia schools who are looking to become STEM certified themselves. Most recently, Amana hosted leaders from Fulton Academy of Science and Technology (another Fulton County charter public school), as well as educators from Atlanta Public Schools, Dekalb County Schools, and two private schools. These schools got to see firsthand how STEM at Amana adds rigor and authenticity, encourages and fosters collaboration among students, and challenges them to become changemakers.
“One of the key components of EL Education schools is their multi-dimensional approach to measuring achievement,” says Principal Cherisse Campbell, “through their interdisciplinary project work students not only master state standards but also key character competencies such as communication and collaboration that they will use far beyond their school years.”