Roan Elementary students in grades 3-5 experienced augmented and virtual reality, investigated a crime scene, and made their own ice cream — among other activities — during the school's third annual Roan Exploration and Discovery (RED) Day on Friday.

This year's theme was science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM), and Roan enlisted the help of employees of Shaw Industries for several stations. In addition, Brian Cooksey, the company's director of workforce development, addressed students before they headed to their various locations.

It's only natural for the school to partner with Shaw for RED Day, since the company is a leader in all five areas of STEAM, said Anne Fetzer, a teacher at Roan. Cooksey, in particular, was an ideal fit, since he mentors a robotics team for the Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy.

"All of you are the future of our community and of companies like Shaw," Cooksey told the assembly. "You all have amazing talents, some of which you haven't tapped into yet."

By exposing students to a variety of opportunities on Friday, Cooksey hopes they discovered areas of interest that can lead to fulfilling careers, he said. "I love what I do, and we want you to find your passion in life."

Shaw offers a variety of STEAM careers, including positions as a chemist, designer, engineer, industrial maintenance technician and lift truck operator, he said. Of course, "the jobs we have today are different than the jobs we'll have 10 years from now," so it's paramount students master "soft skills," such as communication, collaboration and innovation, as well.

The ability to communicate, collaborate and innovate will serve students well not only in their future jobs, but also throughout their lives, he said. Gifted communicators can develop plans, exchange information, make sure everyone knows their roles, share feedback to learn from mistakes and, especially, build relationships, because "on any successful team, relationships are key."

"If you can communicate, then you can collaborate," Cooksey added. Collaboration entails respecting other voices, valuing other ideas, and including all team members.

Finally, innovation requires creative thinking, problem solving and "thinking differently to improve things," he said. Shaw is innovating constantly, including wondering how they could keep bottles out of landfills and "do something productive with (them)."

That led to recycling plastic bottles to make carpet padding, he said. "That's innovation."

"It's great to instill" the spirit of innovation in students at an early age, as RED Day does, he added. "Innovation is what founded this community and what it's thrived on for years."

The first RED Day focused on writing, and the second concentrated on sports, said Cindy Parrott, Roan's principal. Last year, Matt Land, Dalton High School's head football coach, visited Roan to talk to students, and then, later in the day, Roan bused students to DHS, where coaches of various sports led students through different sporting activities.

Roan boasts a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab and an innovation lab, so turning toward STEAM for this year's RED Day was only natural, Parrott said. Through Friday's experiences, students can connect what they're learning in elementary school to jobs they may hold years in the future.

"We're bringing concepts we use in industry into school in ways that connect with students," Cooksey said. For example, students were able to experiment with dyes for flooring and use Skittles to plot graphs.

At another station, students were painting with vinegar and baking soda, showing not only chemical reactions, but also the way colors blend together, explained Shaw's Sarah Yeung. "There is color in everything."

In a different room, students enjoyed virtual reality (VR) experiences with Oculus Go headsets. They could explore a Jurassic world, complete with dinosaurs, conduct missions at the International Space Station, and even tour the Anne Frank House.

Roan has its own set of headsets, and the school system also has a set, which it brings to various schools, said Nick Sun, director of school support for Dalton Public Schools. The headsets engage students by "bringing content to life, they help (students) with perspective, and it's fun, too."

Students can take "virtual field trips" with the technology, as "the four walls of the classroom go away with these goggles on," Sun said. "We can put (students) anywhere without ever leaving the classroom, and it's better to see it right there than me talking about it."

Roan continues to be in the vanguard of creatively incorporating technology into curriculum, not only with the Oculus Go goggles, but also with other tools, like Merge Cubes, holographic toys that allow users to physically hold and interact with 3D objects using augmented reality (AR) technology, he said. "Roan, their niche is really technology."

Indeed, "we use a lot of Title 1 funds" — federal funds to schools with high percentages of low-income students — "to support (technology)," Parrott said. Though a significant number of Roan students live in poverty, or close to it, "they have as much chance as anybody else" to succeed because of the opportunities Roan provides, especially in the realm of technology.

The AR of Merge Cubes differs from the VR of Oculus Go goggles in that "you're holding it in your hand, so you're outside of it, not in it," explained Wendy Houston, a paraprofessional at Roan. With Merge Cubes, students can dive deeply into the human heart and skull, explore the galaxy — including "touching" a planet to learn more information about it — and build aquariums, which is all "very cool."

RED Day has also had a service component since its inception, Parrott said. In the middle of the day, students were to help pack toiletries the school has collected for City of Refuge, which provides services to low-income families.

Parrott added that RED Day motivates students to begin considering their futures, as well as their value in their community.

"We believe every child can do anything they set their mind to, no matter their (socioeconomic) status," she said. "We tell them every day they can can do anything and be anybody they want to be."

And while RED Day is for students in grades 3-5, students in kindergarten, first and second grade will have a career day at Roan this spring, she said. The school may even bring Cooksey back to talk to that group.

"It's never too early to start thinking about what you want to do for a career," Cooksey told the students on Friday. "Go and do great things in this world."

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