By Valerie Truesdale
Beaufort County School District Superintendent
Four years ago, the wide variety of math programs used in Beaufort County’s elementary schools contributed to a lack of consistent instruction. We lacked a clear district-wide focus on improving math achievement, which simply was not at the levels where it should have been.
When data analysis showed that math results in Bluffton (M.C. Riley, Okatie and Bluffton Elementary Schools) were stronger than in other attendance areas, the district adopted the math curriculum used in Bluffton for all of the county’s schools. Extensive teacher training provided the tools needed for the best results, and math achievement has improved significantly across the district.
One particularly bright spot in this effort was the district’s creation of a magnet program in Advanced Mathematics, Engineering and Science (AMES) at Beaufort Elementary School that now serves 120 students in grades three to five. Teaching units and best practices developed at the academy have been shared with elementary schools across the county, and last month we expanded the AMES concept to Pritchardville Elementary School as “AMES South.”
AMES uses hands-on activities and technology-based projects for students, emphasizing reading comprehension of non-fiction and fiction books related to the themes of units of study. Third-graders at Pritchardville started this year with the unit “Featuring Planet Earth,” which has the students explore physical changes that affect our planet. Fourth-graders are focusing on the “Weather; Whether or Not?” which has students building and using weather instruments to collect and interpret weather data. Fifth-graders are studying “Surf and Turf,” which focuses on the relationships among the living and nonliving factors within earth and aquatic ecosystems.
Students share their presentations during monthly “interactive” parent nights. Community members such as engineers, doctors, scientists serve as valuable resources as they share experiences and mentor student projects. At Beaufort Elementary’s AMES program, for example, students participate in an “Invention Fair” that is unlike a traditional science fair. Students create inventions following the engineering design process. The projects are judged by community professionals from the engineering field. Fifth-grade invention projects are presented digitally, giving the students the opportunity to showcase their technology skills.
AMES is structured so that if parents choose, students can continue the approach in middle school through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs at Lady’s Island Middle or at their home middle school through gifted/talented programs. Bluffton Middle is already planning ways to smooth the transition of this year’s Pritchardville AMES students when they graduate from elementary school and move on to middle school in 2012.
In this second decade of the digital age, it is vital that we maintain a laser-like focus on providing learners with skills and competencies in mathematics and science that they will need to be successful in college and careers. Learning happens everywhere, all the time. Our intent is to identify “future-ready” skills for children while we simultaneously build a solid foundation in reading comprehension to support learning in all content areas.
We truly appreciate the community’s support for our 20,000 students, and all of our schools have standing invitations for local residents to get involved by serving as mentors or guest speakers, or by attending concerts and presentations of student learning. There are a multitude of ways to support our students and teachers, and I firmly believe that everyone has something valuable to contribute. Come watch us grow!
By Valerie Truesdale