STEM Program Expands
By EMILY RAMSEY
CRITICAL THINKING: Union Associate Superintendent Kathy Dodd stands in the Collegiate Academy, where she discussed the school district’s STEM initiative which now has STEM course offerings in grades K-12.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
As part of its strategic plan, Union Public Schools has taken on ways to expand its (science, technology, engineering, math) programs. Playing a key role in instituting those programs has been Associate Superintendent Kathy Dodd.
“We don’t want kids to get through school without extensive work in this area,” says Dodd. “STEM thinking is involved in everything.”
After participating in Launch, an elementary school pilot program by Project Lead the Way (), during the 2013-14 school year, Darnaby Elementary is now in its second year in the program with Moore and Cedar Ridge Elementary schools in their inaugural year. is a national leading provider of programs.
After its first year in Launch, Darnaby showed an increase in science test scores on the Oklahoma State Core Curriculum Tests.
The district is currently in the process of bringing programs to each grade level, from kindergarten to 12th grade. “In other districts, is a separate school or one classroom; with Union, it’s infused in everything we do,” Dodd says.
Three pathways are available for students: engineering, biomedical, and computer science and coding.
Starting in sixth grade, they can choose elective classes in areas including electrons, robotics, computer coding and crime scene investigation.
Beginning with ninth grade, students have access to engineering courses with Tulsa Tech and, in 11th and 12th grades, the biomedical field with Tulsa Community College.
Additional biomedical and computer science classes are being developed to begin in the 2015-16 school year.
The 2014-15 school year also marks the beginning of Union Career Connect, a manufacturing on-the-job training program. Union has partnered with APSCO and Cos. to provide Union seniors the opportunity to work at a manufacturing facility and be co-taught by company teams and instructors.
The program serves two important purposes, says Dodd. “It highlights opportunities after high school for students who may not be interested in attending college, and it ensures that students are graduating with the skills needed to enter the workforce.”
Other partnerships currently in development are engineering, community and sports medicine, coding and computer science, maintenance, construction, and teaching.
Administrators have continued to make efforts to align schools and teachers with the district’s goal of graduating 100 percent of students college and career ready. That has included restructuring secondary schools to create continuity as students move from grade to grade and school to school.
“At the elementary level, we have the opportunity to develop relationships with students from pre-K through fifth grade because they’re in one school,” says Dodd. However, with secondary students changing schools every one to two years, administrators were forced to create a different approach.
Sixth grade students are now assigned a group of administrators who remain with them through seventh grade. Eighth graders are assigned a counselor who remains with them through ninth grade. The group of administrators who oversee tenth grade students is the same group that sees them graduate. “And all of those administrators are focused on the goal of helping kids have a plan for post secondary,” Dodd says, which can only be accomplished if teachers and administrators have built relationships with their students. “There’s an intentionality on the part of adults to know each student’s story.”
Dodd, who grew up in rural Oklahoma as an adopted child, feels strongly about giving equal opportunities to all students.
“I have been the beneficiary of so much help throughout my life that I have the responsibility to give that to all the kids,” she says. That aim has become even more vital to Dodd and the Union district as area demographics continue to change.
“As the demographics changed in the district, we started looking at the gaps and identifying barriers for kids,” she says. The district’s strategic plan aims to “level the playing field,” with its additional focus on community schools and early childhood education.