In order to provide a lasting, noteworthy STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experience for Georgia STEM Day earlier this month, a handful of Brookwood School teachers and a pair of Dalton State College professors offered fourth-graders a Zoom meeting, but that was only the latest example of the elementary school's STEM focus.

STEM is infused into every part of Brookwood's curriculum, said fourth-grade teacher Sonia Elkins. Since Brookwood became STEM-certified a handful of years ago, teachers have observed students thinking in new, creative ways.

"If you can teach students to think, they can show success in a variety of different ways," and at Brookwood, "we ask students to do a lot of writing, but it's hard to write about experiences you didn't have," which is why Lakeshore Park — Brookwood's outdoor classroom — is crucial, said fourth-grade teacher Tiffany Thompson. "A lot of students have blossomed in a different format.''

Brookwood was awarded a Platinum award from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement this spring. To qualify, Brookwood had to earn a three-year average College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) score in at least the 93rd percentile or higher, and Brookwood's growth was at the 99th percentile, placing it in the Platinum (highest) tier, according to Dalton Public Schools. The CCRPI scores schools on several components — content mastery, progress, closing gaps, readiness and, for high schools, graduation rate — and is Georgia’s accountability tool for annually measuring how well its schools, school systems and the state are helping students achieve their goals.

Brookwood offers "hands-on experience," said rising fifth-grader Hayden Hall. "It's much easier to learn when you can experience it."

Though it had once fallen into disrepair, Lakeshore Park is now a runaway success, where several turtle species are thriving, Thompson said. In fact, "many of them are unmarked, which means they're reproducing."

Brookwood is up for recertification as a STEM school this year, so teachers invited STEM coordinators from the state to join the Zoom meeting, which they did, Thompson said. "They told us it was the best-ever one they'd been on."

And "it didn't end there, either," as students who weren't able to join that Zoom meeting live have been able to watch it and submit questions in subsequent days, Elkins said. "You're not nearly as good by yourself as when you're sharing (information) with other people."

Brookwood's teachers continue to appreciate their relationship with Dalton State, which dates back six years, said Annette Rojas, a fourth-grade teacher. "They're always willing to share their expertise, and this partnership has been invaluable to us."

When John Lugthart, a professor of biology at Dalton State who was part of the Zoom conference earlier this month, has meetings like that one with Brookwood students, part of him wishes he was their age again.

"It would be wonderful to be a kid at Brookwood and go over to that park" on a regular basis, he said. Brookwood "has taken advantage of their location and made the most out of it."

Christopher Manis, an assistant professor of biology at the college who was also a keynote speaker on the Zoom class, echoed those sentiments, calling Brookwood's teachers "extraordinary."

"I'm so impressed by their enthusiasm, their energy, and their passion," Manis said. "They're getting kids into experiences that are just next level."

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