Adairsville Middle has reached a goal that only 15 other middle schools in the state have reached.
After 2½ years of hard work, AMS has become the first school in Bartow County — and only the 16th middle school in Georgia — to be certified a science, technology, engineering and mathematics school by the Georgia Department of Education.
Principal Tony Stanfill and his staff found out Nov. 20 after the final virtual STEM walk by the GaDOE’s STEM department team that they had met all the requirements for being state-certified much faster than most schools that complete the process.
Paula Camp, director of advanced learning and academic support programs for the Bartow County School System, said it’s “almost unheard of” for a school to earn the state-certification title in just over two years.
“Most schools receive this honor after about five years of work, not two,” she said. “I cannot begin to express my excitement. What an unprecedented achievement for our students, parents, staff and leadership.”
Stanfill said it felt “exhilarating and surreal” to finally be done with the process and to receive the certification.
“We started three years ago, with state certification as our goal in five years,” he said. “For us to get it done in 2½ years, still today, seems unbelievable. In sports terms, it was the equivalent to winning a state championship that only 16 out of over 600 middle schools in the state have ever won.”
The principal also said he’s “extremely proud of my teachers, students, admin team and community partners” for enabling Adairsville Middle to be the first Bartow County school to reach this goal.
“I'm not only happy for AMS but also for Bartow County because I hope it shows other schools that it's possible,” he said. “We're honored and humbled to be the first, but I really believe we won't be the last. The support for this vision and process from the central office is amazing, and I believe, through collaborative efforts, big things are happening and will continue to happen in Bartow County.”
Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page said the state certification is a “well-deserved accomplishment that was earned through a collective effort from students, teachers, administrators and community partners.”
“Their focus on collaboration, learning and results transformed their school into one that is now emulated by others across the state,” he said. “State leaders are encouraging schools interested in STEM certification to tour Adairsville Middle School. This is a big honor, and I am proud of their determination to earn such an elusive and highly sought-after title in just over two years.”
Camp said STEM is “much more than an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.”
“STEM education is a transformative approach to traditional teaching and learning that fosters creativity and innovative thinking in all students,” she said. “Not only does STEM make school more engaging, but it also builds skills required for college, career and the 21st century.”
Stanfill was the ringleader who wanted AMS to reach the lofty goal of state STEM certification.
“Four years ago, when I became principal, I knew I wanted to investigate STEM certification, but I really didn't know what it entailed,” he said. “I attend the monthly Eggs and Issues meetings in Adairsville, and I noticed all the workforce guest speakers kept saying they needed more employees who were creative, had effective communication skills and could critically think.
“Once I researched STEM and realized it revolves around the 4 C’s — Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical-Thinking — I knew we had to start STEM education. Ultimately, STEM is best practice, and it would help prepare our kids for the workforce and make Adairsville an even better community.”
Camp said AMS became the “16th middle school in the state to be awarded this prestigious certification through a rigorous continuum application process.”
“This process involved two years of self-assessments; building business, community and post-secondary partnerships; CTAE [career, technical and agricultural education] alignments; standard-based learning collaboration; and site visits, both in person and virtual, from the GaDOE STEM department team,” she said. “Schools can reapply every five years to continue their state school STEM certification using the same criteria and application process.”
Stanfill said last month’s final walk — where students and teachers virtually showed the state team some of their STEM activities — was “extremely smooth, considering the visit was virtual, due to our amazing media specialist and STEM subcommittee member, Mrs. Breanna Lee.”
“She did an amazing job of setting up laptops and cameras on carts in every room as well as setting up a strict schedule on Microsoft Teams so the transitions from room to room were flawless,” he said. “Traci Newman, our STEM Champion, also did a great job working with our STEM-Bassadors so when the virtual guests appeared on Teams, our students immediately jumped in and walked the virtual visitors through each lesson. These kids did an excellent job.”
The educators were told of the school’s certification a little over an hour after the final walk was completed.
“After the STEM walk was over at noon, the DOE panel met with our community partners until 12:30 [p.m.],” Stanfill said. “Then they deliberated off-camera for 30 agonizing and tense minutes then we joined them back on Teams at 1:00. We had a debrief where they went over Grow and Glows, and then they announced we were certified.”
A post on the school district’s Facebook page said the state leaders were “blown away by the standards and design process, continued improvements and high levels of learning for all AMS students.”
Stanfill said the biggest benefit of being state certified is the “impact it's had on our academics.”
“We have seen the STEM culture increase our scores on [Georgia] Milestones — two years ago, since they weren't given last year — and it has helped increase our PSAT scores in the eighth grade,” he said. “We've also opened students' eyes to STEM careers they otherwise may not have known about. We're also excited about being able to collaborate with schools across the county and state who may be seeking certification. We believe this networking will only help us get better and better."
The principal said he appreciated his teachers for their “hard work and willingness to buy in” to the certification process and the community partners “who helped make all this possible."
“STEM incorporates the 4 C’s I mentioned earlier; however, we add a fifth C here at Adairsville, and that's Community,” he said.