SPARK’s multi-talented 10-year-old, fifth grader and future herpetologist
Tucked away in the courtyard of M. Agnes Jones Elementary School (MAJ) is a quaint, student-run garden that has taken two years to cultivate and has finally made its formal debut through a special ribbon cutting ceremony.
MAJ principal, Robert Williams, spoke to a lively audience of proud faculty, parents, sponsors and students
, and shared how the garden beautification project reinforces the school’s commitment to promoting critical thinking and problem-based learning.
“We want our scholars to not only embrace the community, but we want them to be thinking about finding solutions,” Williams said. “We want [learning] to be applicable to their lives, and this space has enabled them to do that.”
While the garden has been operational for nine years, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed greatly to its deterioration. However, hard work, dedication and community partnerships revitalized the project and STEAM educators, Lisa Colbert and Mikaela Zimmerman, spearhead its curriculum.
“It is a living classroom where we connect what we’re doing socially and emotionally. What we’re doing [surrounding] community. What we’re doing [surrounding] curriculum. And it comes together in just this unique, beautiful way that the students find their passion for what’s next and for what’s to come,” Zimmerman said.
The MAJ Garden successfully produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as houses pollinator-friendly plants, a composting station, a chicken coup, and a turtle habitat.
Fifth grader A’Journi Walker said the chickens were her favorite part of the garden experience and that she’s learned a lot.
“This garden has helped me learn how nature can develop and change over a timespan of as little as two years,” Walker said. “It is a great space for people to learn and grow and is a community for chickens, plants, kids and adults.”
Additionally, the garden sits amid a vibrant, eye-catching mural that encompasses inspirational words and phrases depicting the school’s academic distinction as a science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) certified school.
In fact, MAJ is certified as a Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) STEM school, a GADOE STEAM school and a COGNIA STEM school— the only school in the state of Georgia holding all three certifications.
This distinction was earned, in part, with the support of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, who adopted the school over two decades ago to further their mission of supporting programs designed to promote education, environment, community enrichment, and entrepreneurship.
“Georgia-Pacific set out over 27 years ago to make a difference, to create value, and to add value to what was [existing at MAJ].” Georgia-Pacific Foundation senior director of community affairs Beverly Ferguson said.
With Georgia-Pacific’s support and the hard work of the faculty throughout the years, the IOWA test scores at MAJ have improved and their focus as a STEAM institution has expanded their academic offerings, with the garden being another added value and learning experience for the students.
Local non-profit Learning in Color designed the garden’s unique murals using color theory and custom art, with the assistance of resources supplied by Northside Tool Rental and volunteers coordinated by Georgia Power.
Morehouse College also signed on to assist with the garden beautification project as well as other organizations including Truly Living Well, West End Neighborhood Development, Rotary Club of Atlanta West End, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and Spelman College’s Bonner Scholarship Program.
With the MAJ garden running at full capacity, future plans to expand its offerings are in development.
“We have a project coming up where we will be installing a greenhouse outdoors in this space to be able to further our outdoor learning and efforts in sustainability,” Colbert said. Krista Verdelotti, MAJ parent and GO Team member, also revealed that a partnership with Trees Atlanta to plant 50 trees was also in the works.
The students at Crawford W. Long Middle School and H.J. Russell West End Academy will be the first in the state of Georgia to have access to the Verizon Innovative Learning Labs, which opened on their respective campuses last Thursday.
Verizon and The Heart of America Foundation partnered with Atlanta Public Schools to help foster digital inclusion through a transformative education initiative called Verizon Innovative Learning.
“Technology and connectivity are incredible enablers for learning, and at Verizon we are committed to digital inclusion and ensuring that students have access to emerging technology and powerful learning opportunities in the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab,” Verizon’s director of community engagement and government affairs said. “This will be an exciting learning experience that will help ignite interest in STEM and an opportunity for everyone to become lifelong learners, creators and problem solvers. We expect this lab will offer opportunities for educators to leverage and integrate emerging technology in the classroom.
What used to be a standard classroom with rows of desks and limited equipment has been completely redesigned and repurposed to introduce the students to a variety of emerging technologies.
“This was about a year and a half transformation process, and this gives our scholars the opportunity to have hands-on engagement lessons and engage with technologies that are beyond the scope of the regular classroom,” Long middle school principal Carla McCall-McCou said.
The students now have access to Ultimates 3D printers, virtual reality (VR) headsets, augmented reality (AR), Spike prime robotics, Sphero RVR dynamic robotic rovers and more in the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab.
“The purpose of this lab is to offer our students real experience with the different resources and technologies that are available,” Long middle school Verizon Innovative Learning instructor Taquoya Portee said. “The new skills, in the STEM world, will allow them to go into different fields and be better equipped and exposed to different areas.”
Evan Flanigan, an eighth-grade student at Long middle school, had little interest in STEM learning until he walked into the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab at his school for the first time. When the class VR headsets put him face-to-face with a great white shark, the initial shock turned into a fun, immersive learning experience.
“Now, when I come to school and I have STEM, I’m happy to come here,” Flanigan said. “The activities are fun. The experience is fun. What we do is really intriguing and I learn a lot in the process.”
The students at H.J. Russell West End Academy were just as excited to show off their Verizon Innovative Learning Lab. School has been open less than a month and the students were already proficient in coding robots through mazes, setting up virtual reality museum tours and creating designs on their 3D printers.
Ni-khole Goulding and her brother Nikoh Goulding, eighth-grade students at H.J. Russell West End Academy, were excited to use the technology they have only had limited experience with.
“I was excited about the VR headsets because last year we were introduced to them, but we didn’t really use them much,” Nikoh said. “Seeing the whole lab and how the technology came together was pretty cool to see how much stuff we were open to.”
Having the Verizon Innovative Learning Labs in Atlanta, at APS, and on campus allows students at Crawford W. Long Middle School and H.J. Russell West End Academy to be prepared for a future with jobs and skills that have yet to be imagined.
“Because of great partners like Verizon Innovative Learning and the Heart of America Foundation, our scholars will be equipped to make a better tomorrow, to build a better tomorrow with tools that they may be touching for the very first time,” Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring said.
When students return to Heritage Academy Elementary School on August 1, they will be learning under a new curriculum model with newly refurbished media center to go with it.
On Wednesday, more than 50 volunteers from the pharmaceutical company AbbVie and the AbbVie Foundation worked all day to makeover the school’s media center and bring it in line with its new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum. The project was facilitated by The Heart of America Foundation, which organizes volunteer makeover projects for schools in communities which have historically been economically challenged.
Volunteers painted the walls of the media center, including reading nook areas, created literacy-themed signage murals for the walls, installed a green screen for video projects, organized books and built a “makers space” complete with a three-dimensional printer and a Lego wall.
“Reading is a big part of our culture here, and so this plays right into that,” Heritage Academy principal Trennis Harvey said afterward. “This will be our first year as a STEAM school, and so this space fits everything we are trying to do with our students.”
APS students and teachers are celebrating Georgia STEMDay today throughout the district! STEMDay is an opportunity for our teachers to get students engaged in science, technology, engineering and math activities. Check out the photos below to see how some of our APS students are spending their day!
By Leslie Rivera
Curious second and third graders at Burgess-Peterson Academy got their first hands-on experience with the school’s new STE(A)M truck this week. Students were able to touch and play with items on the mobile learning facility which is dedicated to the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math experience.
The truck serves as a mobile innovation lab and allows students to tackle problems using real tools and modern technology under the guidance of community experts. Children and local artists worked together to tinker, design and build solutions in a fun, educational environment. The students’ first challenge was to create an object made of paper using at least three folds that could hold pennies. The student whose design held the most pennies won.
Principal Robin Robbins is excited that students have the opportunity to collaborate at this level. “I am hopeful that my students will take advantage of authentic learning by engaging in projects which use critical thinking and problem-solving while sparking students’ interest in STEAM related careers,” said Ms. Robbins.
Principal Robbins applauds the non-traditional approach, “Globally students must begin to learn how to collaborate on real world issues with teams. The experience will also hopefully launch our students into careers and educational opportunities where minorities have been underrepresented. Having the STEAM truck here for 20 consecutive days will allow my students the opportunity to execute a plan from beginning to end”.
The truck will be parked at Burgess-Peterson until the end of the school year, a great way to make a lasting impression on these inspiring young minds!
Jennifer Lockwood, a fourth grade teacher at Springdale Park Elementary School, has been named an Atlanta Families’ Awards for Excellence in Education (AFAEE) winner for the 2013 school year. Ms. Lockwood will use the award to fund her Full STEAM Ahead with Learning project. Lockwood is one of 10 APS educators awarded $7,500 for innovative classroom projects, professional development and a personal stipend.
“I’m so excited and honored to be part of Atlanta Families group of teachers,” Lockwood said. “My students will get an opportunity to use STEAM throughout the day and work on wonderful projects to show their understanding of Common Core.”
Full STEAM Ahead with Learning will engage students in hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) lessons to extend their understandings of concepts in these fields. Students will participate in weekly STEAM lessons that are integrated with the Common Core and Georgia Performance Standards. In addition, students will collaborate with professionals in STEAM fields to gain more knowledge about how concepts are used in real-life situations. Fourth graders will communicate about STEAM concepts with their peers and community through a class blog and online experiences and at the end of the year, the students will use the information they have gained to complete a STEAM Showcase project that they will share with their peers, community members and other stakeholders.
“We had a lot of great candidates this year,” said Stephanie Frederick from AFAEE. “We’re very happy to be here and serve our community and give back.”
“I’d like to thank Atlanta Families for this award, and my fabulous fourth graders and parents for their support, and the SPARK community,” said Lockwood.
Jennifer Lockwood has 9 years of teaching experience with 1st through 4th grades. She earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Education in Early Childhood Education from the University of West Georgia. She graduated with her Educational Specialist degree from Georgia State University in August 2011. Lockwood believes in being a lifelong learner. She has also taken courses to earn endorsements for Gifted Education, Mathematics, Reading, Teacher Leadership, and Teacher Support Specialist. Lockwood has been with Atlanta Public Schools for 7 years and taught in Douglas County for 2 years. In addition to being a classroom teacher, Lockwood has served as a mathematics instructional coach and interim challenge teacher.
She has served on numerous committees, such as Design Team, One Academic Fair, and many others. She chaired the Math Task Force and served as the Georgia Performance Standards facilitator. Lockwood has presented professional development sessions to schools and at the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics conferences. She has earned grants from various entities to fund projects to enhance student instruction. In 2012, Lockwood was selected to participate in the Mickelson Exxon Mobil Teachers Academy.
Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy now has a partnership with the Parker H. Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Biosciences.
Teachers from CSKYWLA will conduct biomedical research at Georgia Institute of Technology, alongside graduate students and leading scientific researchers.
A fascinating component of the partnership is the development of the Cell Biology Boot Camp that will prepare our students to conduct research at Georgia Tech which began this summer. Students had the opportunity during their break from school to experience current technologies and procedures in biological research.