First Lady Sandra Deal, the Governor’s wife visits with STEP Academy students Brad Fulcher and Ashleigh Medley during the Children’s Cabinet STEM tour at Moore Middle School in Lawrenceville Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
LAWRENCEVILLE — When Makhsud Nuriyev first learned about the STEP Academy, he was hesistant about it, and didn’t think it would effect his future.
Now the student at Moore Middle School raves about the program, and has plans to enroll at Georgia State University.
“I thought it was going to be really hard and I wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “It turned out to be really easy, and my teachers also helped me out with my classwork. When you get into it, it gets better, you get more out of it, and it helps you in the future.”
The program received a visit on Wednesday from the First Lady of Georgia, Sandra Deal, who toured several classrooms, and then went to Gwinnett Technical College with students and administrators. Deal’s visit was part of her statewide tour this month on behalf of the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, the Governor’s Office for Children and Families and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to spotlight programs that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
The STEP program, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Targeted Education Program, is in its second year at Moore Middle, and was also piloted at Sweetwater Middle. It’s a credit recovery program for over-aged eighth-grade students who are working to get back on track academically. This year, the program introduced a blended curriculum of eighth- and ninth-grade material after it separated the curriculum by grade into separate semesters last year.
“Hopefully there will be hands-on efforts to help them stay in school and be progressive with their lives,” Deal said. “We’re hoping this will lead them into going on to technical training maybe at Gwinnett Tech, to get them the opportunity to improve their lives and do something they love to do, because we’re always happier when we do something we really enjoy.”
The reasons students fall behind are nearly as varied as the number in the program. Some came from other countries and weren’t on grade level, some were held back starting school, or failed a grade in elementary school, or experienced a prolonged illness.
Moore Middle counted 78 students last year who started the program, while 59 ended the program and 42 went on to Central Gwinnett High as sophomores. This year, 73 started the program and 61 students are currently it, said Moore assistant principal Analisa Wendt.
“They come in many not having goals, and they leave having an idea of where to go,” Wendt said. “As long as they stick to that through high school, there’s a much better chance that they graduate.”
The pilot program was established by a $600,000 federal Race to the Top grant, and surpassed all initial benchmarks with students regaining, on average, two or more semesters of academic credit.
“It’s great to hear them articulate and connect with what they’re doing now, and say, ‘Here’s my goal, here’s what I’m doing now,’ and see the importance and significance of being successful,” Moore Principal Lamont Mays said. “It’s not something where, ‘I’ll wake up in 12th grade and say, ‘Oh, I’ll get serious about school.’”
In addition to helping students graduate on time, the program sets a career pathway for them as GCPS has partnered with Gwinnett Tech and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. The partnership introduces participating students to dual enrollment opportunities and certificate programs.
While the program is in its infancy, Mays credited teachers’ hard work.
“We have teachers who work far above and beyond what the minimum requirements are,” he said. “They’re doing something that there’s not a lot of others they can go to and say, ‘How does this work.’ So they’re pioneers and trailblazers.”
While two Gwinnett schools use the program, Mays said their success is critical so that the program can grow to other schools and clusters.
“The ripple effect year after year, that’s how you change a community,” he said. “Every dropout is a tremendous burden on the system and we feel like we’ve failed as educators.”
First Lady Sandra Deal visits Moore Middle School
First Lady Sandra Deal, the Governor's wife visits with STEP Academy students during the Children's Cabinet STEM tour at Moore Middle School in Lawrenceville Wednesday.