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STEM integration in Greene County Schools: A photo story

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Jose Garcia is the STEM Education Director for Greene County Schools. He has worked there for 20 years and has focused on curriculum development for the last 10.

Jose Garcia, STEM Education Director at Greene County Schools. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

He says traditionally most schools utilize this type of lesson format: lecture, PowerPoint notes, and worksheets. And while he knows it is difficult to shift away from that, he and Greene County Schools have worked very hard to change it up. 

What does that “change up” look like? An innovative STEM curriculum that has been customized for the students. There are “Grand Challenges,” which Garcia defines as project-based learning in teams, with an engineering and design focus. The teams are governed by the students and if someone isn’t pulling their weight they can be asked to leave the group. When Garcia saw students become complacent with Grand Challenges, he created a new model: the Citizen Chat.

Garcia took the TED talk model and the Citizen Science model and combined them to create another learning and inquiry approach. This gives students a voice and freedom over choosing topics that matter to them. It is important to him that students have the ability to talk about social issues impacting their lives.

Garcia was born in Mexico. He grew up in the United States and knows what it is like to live within two cultures. This identity is important to him and to his district. When he got to Greene County Schools, Garcia says the Latino population was 6%. Now, it is around 32%. The Grand Challenges and Citizen Chats give students with diverse identities opportunity to explore social issues, answering questions in their world and in their words.

“We’re doing something that’s different and disruptive, because what we had been doing wasn’t working”

Jose Garcia, STEM Education Director, Greene County Schools

STEM is integrated in elementary, middle, and high school for Greene County students. The district has 40 partnerships, state and national, that help fund this focus or offer opportunities for collaboration. Learn more about the experience from high school students in the photo story below:

Sidney Ramsey and Katelynn Walters are 10th grade students, showing off their Biology Grand Challenge project. They developed an affordable air filtration system for Brazil to detect COVID-19. They researched the Brazilian healthcare system, history, and economy to create an affordable system that could be made to scale. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
In STEM Honors English III, each student was able to read the book of their choice. They then had to find a common theme or conflict to partner up for their Grand Challenge. The topic these students connected on was “unexpected events.” They translated the theme into this project: building sensors to detect when a bridge is on the brink of collapse in China. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
In between walks to the STEM classrooms, we walk to the school’s nursery. The horticulture class holds community plant sales throughout the year and nets over $20,000 from sales. The sale and greenhouse is student-run with instructor Henry Pasour, a twice-retired educator.
Automotive Instructor David Ginn wears the shirt pictured every day to school and approaches every interaction with love, peace, hope, and joy. He began this campaign last year, and it has grown throughout the district. “My idea behind it is just, you know, we don’t have to all agree, but if we can at least agree on these four things and engage, have a conversation with these four things in our head when we try to talk, we’re going to have better outcomes,” he said. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
This is the dedicated STEM lab and makerspace, where STEM Spanish 2 students are about to present their project on the deforestation in Peru, all in Spanish. They also told me about a Citizen Chat where they experimented on what brand of water bottle kept liquid the coldest for the longest time. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
Art class Rubik’s cube project time-lapse courtesy of Ashley Shiosaky, art teacher at Greene Central High School.
Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.