There’s a silver lining in the fact that formal dedication of the Duke Energy STEM Center at Woodington Middle School was delayed by a winter storm and scheduling complications until almost five months after students started learning there.
“Most openings, you hope that it’s going to go well, you’re sure that it’s going to go well, but you haven’t seen it go well,” LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams said Thursday, when the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce organized an official ribbon cutting. “We have seen this go well. It’s already working.”
Since late January, sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Woodington have put the STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) to practical use in the center. The 14 work stations allow two-student teams, guided by computer-based learning modules, to gain hands-on knowledge in technical fields as diverse as mechanical engineering, robotics, architectural design, machining and microbiology.
A $100,000 grant from Duke Energy made the center possible, the first of its kind in an LCPS middle school but one of several Duke has financed and the STEM East Alliance has helped site.
“We love partnerships. We gave a half-million dollars to the alliance for them to help us figure out the best places to put these STEM labs, and I have yet to be in one of those STEM labs that the students were not excited,” said Millie Chalk, district manager for government and community relations for Duke Energy. “It’s a great learning environment. It’s really how we work. We do not work separately; we work together in business. This is what these STEM lab teach.”
The student-led model at the heart of the center teaches students to follow instructions closely and to work collaborative and has made Woodington faculty member Sarah Neider more of a facilitator in the STEM center – a guide to discovery and an assessor of progress – than a teacher who is the gatekeeper to the right answer.
“They come in, they put their stuff down, they get their folder, they know what they’re doing,” Neider said of her students as she took visitors for the ribbon-cutting on a tour of each station in the center. “They get to their station and start working.”
That element of independence, along with the hands-on projects that are the paths to learning in the center, boosts student engagement, according to Woodington principal Patrick Phillippe. “When you walk in this lab, yes, there is talking, but it is a wonderful sound, because we’re talking together, we’re asking questions, we’re working on our module. The light bulbs are going off,” Phillippe said.
“Children are imaginative. They are creative and they love to work with their hands,” Williams said. “This lab allows for all of those facets of learning – the discovery learning, the imagination piece, the creativity – and that extension piece that we so often ignore. This lab allows our kids to really move forward and do what our businesses have told us they need.”
The superintendent pointed out the center’s “buffet approach” gives students a taste of many different skill sets and can help them narrow down potential career choices. That’s an early step in moving students into LCPS’s career-oriented programs that allow them to earn college credits while still in high school, he said.
“Duke Energy is looking for people with an interest in technology. We have a business and an industry that’s changing every singe day, so we really need creative, smart students to make a difference in our industry,” Chalk said. “What we really want is our children, right here in eastern North Carolina, to go to school here, grow up, to have great careers and come right back here to eastern North Carolina.”
As a souvenir of her visit, Phillippe gave Chalk a Duke Energy logo created on the 3D printer the school purchased to augment the STEM center’s connection to skills sought by local industries like Spirit AeroSystems and Sanderson Farms. The Lenoir County Manufacturers Association played a role in designing Woodington’s center, which was equipped by the Pitsco Education.
John McPhaul, member and past chair of the Chamber’s board of director, led the ribbon cutting. Among guests were state Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne; Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety; Lenoir County Board of Education member Billy Davis; Judge Annette Turik; Lenoir County Clerk of Court Dawn Stroud; attorney and Woodington alumnus Stuart Stroud; and Steve Hill of STEM East Alliance.
More photos from the ribbon-cutting event can be found on the LCPS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lcpsnc.
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