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Experience with STEM school for gifted child?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi - I'm looking for some info from anyone who has experience with the advantages (or disadvantages) of a STEM magnet school for their gifted child.  My son is in 1st grade and we have had numerous issues with his current school.  He was just accepted through a lottery process for a local STEM school - i'm on the fence as he is not happy about not being at the same school as his older brother and his younger sister (she starts K in the fall).  I put his name in because i was at my wits end with our school administration but since then our principal has unexpectedly decided to retire - they havent picked a replacement yet.


In a meeting to talk about what the school community is looking for in the new principal most of the parents who were there complained of many of the issues i had with the current administration, so i'm hopeful the new principal will have a vastly different approach.


I'm really interested to know if any of you have kids at a STEM school and if it has made a difference in terms of challenge etc... for your kids.  The comment from our current school is that they will not expand the curriculum upwards for our son but "broaden" his knowledge of the grade 1 topics - so when i asked that they let him do 2nd grade worksheets in math they said they could not do that for him but they could give him more worksheets on first grade material for example.  Not sure that would change at this school since its in the same district but i have heard that generally magnet schools are more flexible.



post #2 of 13

I'm hoping someone will have some input for you.


We have STEM schools here, but not for elementary, just for high school. We have magnet schools for kids who test a certain level in the gifted program, but some children are better at the verbal end while others excel at math, and it seems like the concepts are somewhat tailored with that in mind.  I'm not sure to interpret broadening first grade concepts but not doing second grade concepts.  I understand getting a good grounding in the concepts, but at what point is it just busy work? I mean if you are defining second grade by the regular curriculum, but maybe they mean in their already advanced curriculum.

post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 

Yeah - this is the only elementary STEM school in town and there are only a few in the state.  It is not a gifted school - in fact it is in one of the less desirable parts of town and they have made it a STEM magnet school to attract students from outside the local neighborhood.  Its lottery process only and i believe its about 70% neighborhood kids and 30% magnet kids.  They do have more resources available to them than the non magnet schools such as a science lab (only elementary school in the district that has one) and more after school enrichment activities and more hands on projects.


My son is in the most advanced math and reading groups in his current class so there is theoretically some level of differentiation, but my experience has been that it is largely busy work.  In reading they have had to use what they called the "challenge kit" with him - they say they have never had to use it before and they have admitted it is still not a challenge for him, but that is as much as they claim they can differentiate.  In math they had him doing a math journal which he hated because it was solving the same simple problems but in multiple ways so for example - show 3 different ways to solve 3+4. I have discontinued that because it was only prustrating him more.  I met with the STEM coordinator at the new school today for a tour and asked her how they differentiate and she gave me the we believe all students are gifted speech which worries me.  I hate to sound like one of those parents but all kids are not gifted and gifted kids are not like the average student.

post #4 of 13

I have no experience with STEM schools.  We have changed programs, and dealt with changes in administration.


Observe a few classes.  Watch a couple of different lessons in a class.  Can you see differentiation?  Can you figure out who's the gifted kid in the room?  Judge it based on the questions the kid asks, responses the kid gives during lessons, or other behavior.  Then watch -- are these few kids outside the norm being differentiated?  Are they acting bored?  How does the teacher react to this child?  Is it positive or negative?


A lot of this is based on the teacher, but you should be able to see patterns across classrooms if the school as a whole supports true and meaningful differentiation and respect for the needs of gifted kids.  It does take time.  When we switched my daughter's program, I spent 6 hours doing classroom observations.


I'm not sure what a "STEM coordinator" is.  Talk to the principal.  What is their procedure for identifying and serving gifted kids?  Ask: "Can you give me some examples of how you've addressed the needs of your mathematically gifted kids?" 


A lot of the "more of the same for gifted kids" attitude you encountered is often set from a rather local level.  Our district handles gifted kids very differently from one building to the next, mostly as a function of the principal's attitudes.  My kids' school did a 180 with a change in principal.  Things went from "kids are made with cookie cutters" to "every kid has unique needs that need to be met" in attitude practically overnight as the old principal retired and a new one came it.

post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the info - unfortunately i have to give an answer  shortly and it will be impossible to go sit in on classes (kids are on spring break next week and the answer is due monday - just found out he got in 2 days ago).  They are in the process of selecting the new principal for our current school but he or she wont be announced until at early May at the earliest.


I tend to agree that its very dependant on the teacher - my older son has been fortunate with his teacher so far but he is more of an average student so doesnt require the differentiation so i'm not sure if those teachers would be a good fit for his brother.  We have been unlucky in terms of teachers he has had - K was a brand new teacher who was figuring out how to teach kindergarten and was overwhelmed by that so differentiation was non existent.  This year the teacher is very strict but in a nit picking kids cant ever do anything right kind of way - several neighbors who have had her have said it was the worst year of their kids lives (kids would come home crying every day that they cant do anything right etc...) so imagine a bored hyperactive kid in that setting - kind of a recipe for disaster. 


I was alot like my son and i know there wasnt any kind of gifted programs until i got to grade 7 but i also had teachers which let me work ahead as far as i wanted and didnt make me continue to sit through material once i showed them i had mastered it.  So sometimes i wonder if i am making too big a deal out of it - i mean he is only 7.  I just feel bad that he has yet to learn anything of substance and when they do cover topics he doesnt know already (right now they are doing a unit on Africa and the Masai people) he comes home so excited and talking about it, and he doesnt get in trouble - the rest of the time he never has anything good to say about school and is constantly getting in trouble for not paying attention.  Actually their latest thing is that they accuse him of lying (they write it up on his behvior report) becasue they say he wasnt paying attention and when they ask him if he was he "lies" and says he was then answers the question correctly - i think that really aggravates the teacher the most because he can still answer the questions without appearing to listen.  My husband actually told them he was no longer interested in anything they have to say as they are nit pickers.  Good times

post #6 of 13

I moved my DD to a STEM MS this year. They offer a lot of cool electives including engineering classes using Auto CAD, and working with robotics.  They also are able to offer advanced math classes (DD will be done with HS Honors Geometry by the end of 8th grade - next year).  She has been very happy with the change, as she lives for Science in any form (so much that we had her moved up to 8th grade science mid way through this year, as she already knew most of 7th grade curriculum, and has done well with the move - absorbing the new info quickly).  But her school district has a great gifted program, and I have found the teachers (most) and administrators/staffs very willing to work to get the student what they need academically.


Next year, my DS will be starting K at an elementary school in the same district.  They label themselves as a STEM school (feeds into STEM MS); I don't know exactly what that looks like at the elementary level, but have been told that STEM classes will be in rotation, just as Art and Music are.  I'm glad that DS will have this exposure, but I picked the school primarily because it is in a better district than the one we left, it means less car travel for DS (compared to starting him in the old district), and they started a self- contained gifted preschool on site this year, and I figured (rightly so) that probably meant that this school would become the next elementary school to offer self-contained gifted classes for the other grades (which they will do next school year).  All of these factors combined to make this ES seem like a great fit for DS; I hope it turns out to be true.


I know that your DS is advanced in math; does he have interest/passion/thirst for knowledge in the other areas of STEM?  If so, the STEM magnet may be the way to go.  It seems that you may be at the end of the road for finding an appropriate setting for your DS where he currently is; seems like the water has been muddied, maybe even poisoned, where the appearance/perception of your DS to the teachers (maybe even administration?) is concerned. 


I know that moving him away from his friends and siblings would be hard, but I bet he'd find some kindred spirits at the new school.  My DD did.

Edited by oaksie68 - 4/11/13 at 1:13pm
post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 

In general our gifted program is lacking.  They don't offer any gifted programming until 4th grade and even then its a once a week pullout for an hour so not exactly stellar.  The STEM school doesn not offer any additional gifted programming but they do offer more hands on work.  From what i have seen they incorporate STEM through 1 or 2 engineering type projects a year and they try to incorporate the scientific approach in all the subjects.  I asked about subject level acceleration and they don't do that - it appears to be a district wide philosophy that subject acceleration is not an option. 


In terms of academic standards, the standardized test results (not a big fan of these but its really the only info publicly available to compare) for the STEM school are equivalent in math to our current school but significantly lower in reading and writing than our current school.  It would of course make sense for the math scores to be good seeing as they are a STEM school.  DS is very good at math (has great number sense and it clearly comes to him naturally) but i wouldnt say he has a passion for it - then again how much passion can one really have about addition and subtraction.  He does love non-fiction and science type topics but he is also an avid reader and loves art and music (hates gym though!).  If he was a complete science geek (i am married to one so i can spot them) it'd be an easier call. 


I agree that the well is somewhat poisoned at his current school at least with the administration however - the principal is retiring this year and we will have a new principal and likely a fresh start.  If she was not leaving i would change him schools just to get away from her.  Add to that his older brother started at the school in 2nd grade which is the grade he will be going into next year and lucky for him his older brother tends to be a teachers pet so i know alot of teachers use siblings as a gauge when they get new students.  I had hoped a tour of the school would get him excited but he was pretty ambivalent if not downright uninterested by the tour and to be honest I wasnt as impressed as i'd hoped i'd be.  Ideally we'd find a school with gifted programming starting right off the bat but unfortunately that doesnt exist in our district (they are talking about adding it to one of the other magnet schools in 2 or 3 years but it'll be a moot point for us by then).


I'm going to try to talk to some parent of kids that switched from our current school to the STEM school and see why they left and what they like about the STEM school.  Some of our neighbors have friends who did that so they are supposed to have them call me.  I also asked the coordinator at the STEM school if they had a list of students that had attended our current school that were now there so that i could see if we already know students there.

post #8 of 13
Our STEM high school is opening 6-8 next year!

I'm going Monday to follow my own advice above. Oaksie, anything you recommend I look for or ask?
post #9 of 13
Originally Posted by Geofizz View Post

Our STEM high school is opening 6-8 next year!

I'm going Monday to follow my own advice above. Oaksie, anything you recommend I look for or ask?


That's great that you are having another option to explore!


As for recommendations, the big one I wished I had doggedly investigated was the science component. I was surprised that DD's STEM MS didn't offer a full compliment of Honors classes (especially where 1/2 the student population open enrolled, and where  40% of students are designated as gifted).  When I stated my concern about having heterogeneous science classes (without clustering even) to the principal, I now know I was getting fed a line about teachers being able to differentiate for every student (nope, certainly not with her 7th grade science teacher, and not without some sort of clustering - her teacher had kids with IEP's for LD all the way up to my DD - HG.  It surely didn't help that she had very rigid, non-interactive lessons either).


Other questions:


How hands on/interactive are the lessons/curriculum?  Do the students spend a lot of time listening to "lectures" vs. spending time with hands on experiments/projects?


What does the T & E portion of STEM look like, meaning what technology  and engineering classes are offered?  At my DD's school they offer a minimum of 4 classes - 2 engineering, 1 tech yes class (incorporating technology in the classroom/education, essentially becoming a tech evangelist, and  1 tech lab class - exploring various technology avenues - lasers, robots, architecture, etc.)

Also apply this question to the M portion as well! orngbiggrin.gif


How does the school as a whole make sure what they learn in one STEM area connects to the others?  For example at DD's school, most of the kids in 8th grade are taking pre-algebra or algebra (and a some take Honors Geometry), and physics is a unit they go over in 8th grade science.  So the 8th graders took a field trip to a local amusement park to see physics (and math) in action (ahem - roller coaster!), therefore combining the two areas (as well as having fun!  DD is sad she missed it this year, and won't be doing next year).


What is the profile of the kind/type of student do they expect to attract?  Meaning, what do they think the typical student will be like - interests, aptitude, etc.  Also, is the school first come, first served? Or is there an process for applying to attend?  I'm guessing that a specialty STEM MS will attract a lot of advanced/gifted students, but not necessarily?


How flexible/accommodating are they for advanced/gifted students?  Are there official policies in place, or is it determined by the particular circumstance of the student?  Do they think outside the box for solutions to unique situations/students?  I know the first question is an obvious one that you will ask, even without me mentioning it.  I put it here because I know I have tended to be too laid back in advocating for DD "soon enough", trying to be a team player to preserve a positive relationship with the school.  Now I know that I can be more assertive, sooner, and still preserve that relationship.  Lesson learned, and hopefully, lesson to be replicated as necessary! 


What else besides a core of STEM classes do they offer?  I have loved that while being labeled a STEM MS, DD's school offers a full compliment of the arts - art, drama, dance, choir, band and piano.  While my DD is very STEM focused, she also loves to be involved in the arts - she took piano first semester, and is now taking art.  Taking these classes is a stress reducing outlet for her.  And I feel it helps her to be a more well rounded person.


I hope this long winded reply has been helpful; I wish I had asked some of these right from the start.  Good luck tomorrow; I hope you get the answers you are looking for!  Let us know what you find out!

post #10 of 13
Awesome list. Thanks! I need to digest and make notes for tomorrow.

This is a state STEM school, and it's all lottery enrollment, so there's no admissions per se, but there is an application and interview process. I'm not clear at this point how those two things interact. DD is on an IEP, and there are ISs there that (as is required by law), but good point, I should add to my list to see how many SLD IEPs they serve, along with asking how many have gifted ID.

From what I know of the high school program, it's the arts, humanities, and writing that concern me. We need to address that.

I'm going to be very hesistent. This is a new program, so I worry they haven't thought through all the implications of serving a 6th grader's needs.
post #11 of 13

I watched for 2 hours this morning.  It will solve a lot of problems (highly diverse population whereas our home school is "segregated" according to country club; pace and quality and depth of science and math instruction will meet DD's needs) and create others (compressed literature and language arts instruction, limited arts).  They won't have the curricular details available to present until the open house next Tuesday.  We'll go to that, and we might even go so far as to have DD apply, but I'm thinking that we'd be giving up too much.

post #12 of 13

I envy that this is available to you. IMO, schools have not adapted to addressing the skills that are in demand in the real world. My sister is a great writer and journalist, but her employer (a national newpaper) is laying people off all over the place. Meanwhile, there is huge demand for engineers of all kinds. If your child has aptitude for STEM subjects, it seems like it would be a huge advantage to develop those strengths and exercise those parts of the mind.


Of course, as a mother you know best if this is a fit for your child.

post #13 of 13

My rising 1st grader attends the International Leadership STEM magnet school in our district.  The differentiation has been fabulous.  My daughter was the top reader / writer / math student in the entire kindergarten (5 classes) and she would attend the group lesson that was targeted for the "middle" of her classroom.  They would then break out for individual center work and each child was met at their specific level.  She was in a class of high achievers so even that "middle" lesson was applicable for her in the sense that it was centered on a skill, like addition or subtraction, and then she could bump it up to her level.  

In K, the main aspects of the STEM curriculum that we saw was in the LEGO aspect of it, as well as the science lab she attended.  The labs were multi-age.  The LEGO curriculum was very, very cool.  She was able to start building some LEGO robotic stuff (I think it's called MIndstorm but I could be wrong).  I enjoyed that because she often doesn't like group projects because in K, she always ends up having to do the reading and writing for the group because she's the only one who has legible handwriting and she can read the directions so much faster than the other kids.  Being with other fluent readers and writers is amazing for her.

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