This school year is third grader Averionna Cooper’s first at Whitehaven Elementary. She’s already hooked on science and knows a few phrases in Russian.
Her favorite science experiment so far was learning how to make slime, which is a recipe she seems to have committed to memory. “You need food coloring, Borax and Sta-Flo and then you mix it together,” said Cooper, who attended her school’s STEM Expo, held this past Wednesday, with her mother, Roshonda Kitchen.
“They teach a lot here and she’s always coming home telling me something in Russian, which I don’t understand,” Kitchen said.
The 500-plus students at Whitehaven Elementary showcased their Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, skills during the expo. One school official estimated more than 200 people attended.
Whitehaven offers an optional STEM Academy for first through fifth grade students who pass admittance tests.
Principal Tommy Elliott said the school’s program is fast-paced and rigorous, but it has made a positive impact on student achievement. “We’ve made gains in our (achievement) scores every year since I’ve been principal,” said Elliott, who has been at the school for three years.
Elliott said improvement hasn’t always come easy. One of the challenges his teachers face is working with students in writing. “Getting students to want to write and to like to write is important because it is something that they need,” he said.
Elliott is hopeful the academic growth at his school will be enough to bring it off the Tennessee Department of Education’s Priority List this summer. Schools on the list are the lowest-performing 5 percent in the state for academic achievement and are eligible for takeover by the state-run Achievement School District. In 2012, there were 83 schools on the list, more than 60 of which are in Memphis. The state will release a new list this summer.
The STEM Expo allowed parents to view their child’s work in media, robotics and science labs.
Teachers even turned part of the school’s library into a planetarium where a video about the solar system played every quarter-hour. The video project was completely student organized from the voice-over to the graphics selected.
Meagan Pounders, the school’s optional coordinator, helped the students with the project. “They pulled all of the images and used GarageBand and iMovie to put it together,” Pounders said.
During the Expo, students were able to show their parents how to make slime and how a mechanical catapult worked, and conducted an experiment using balloons called ‘Rocket Launch.’
Fifth grade science teacher Amanda Gary asked two students which one of their balloons would travel faster along a thin string tied to two chairs with even distance between them.
“Think it out,” she said. ‘When something goes wrong, what do we do?”
Her students answered, “we try again.”