When Newsweek released its list of the Top 500 STEM High Schools in America last week, one school in the Baton Rouge region was in the top 500 – Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. The school was ranked the number one STEM high school in Baton Rouge. Episcopal also ranks seventh in the state of Louisiana and 448th nationally.
Many people know Episcopal for its rigorous academic offerings, its abundant arts programs, the opportunities provided to compete as part of a sports team or the range of character development and service learning activities. Now the school has earned national recognition for its science, technology, engineering and math offerings. For Episcopal Dean of Academics Dr. Sara Fenske, earning a spot in the top 500 is a testament to the school’s whole child philosophy of education.
STEM Starts Early
Dr. Fenske says Episcopal’s STEM efforts begin well before students enter Upper School. “Our Lower and Middle School efforts feed into what happens in Upper School,” she says. She points to successful programs such as Girls Who Code, Fab Shop and Maker Space. Even the littlest Knights have the opportunity for STEM learning as they work with technology such as Bee Bots, Bloxels and Root robots. “These programs help to make STEM more accessible to students,” says Dr. Fenske. She says the Lower and Middle School offerings make STEM learning fun and attract more students to the field. Hopefully, such experiences will inspire students to continue pursuing their interest in STEM throughout their educational journey.
Personalized Learning Encourages Exploration
Dr. Fenske says Episcopal’s personalized approach to learning also creates a STEM-friendly learning environment. “Students who are ready can accelerate in math and science in Middle School to ensure that they are challenged appropriately,” she says. At the same time, other students who are not yet ready to accelerate in Middle School have a range of challenging courses from which to choose. This allows all students the opportunity to explore a variety of STEM topics and see success in those courses. They then have opportunities to take college-level courses such as AP Calculus BC, AP Physics, AP Environmental Science, and AP Computer Science, as well as a selection of post-AP courses.
There is a balance to providing a variety of courses which appeal to a broad audience of students. When you get this balance right, students are able to excel in numerous areas because of the encouragement and support they receive. This explains why at Episcopal a student can perform with the Upper School select choir, be a member of the swim team and take advanced math and science courses all in the same school year.
ESTAAR and More
“Any mention of Episcopal and STEM must include a mention of the ESTAAR program,” says Dr. Fenske. “We are placing high school students into university labs to do independent research. It doesn’t get more authentically STEM than that.” ESTAAR or Episcopal Students Take Action in Advanced Research began during the 2012/2013 school year. Interested students are partnered with a university professor and have the opportunity for hands-on lab work. Dr. Fenske says ESTAAR students are not necessarily the “math and science” type. They are students who self-select the course because of a love of STEM. In addition to ESTAAR, Episcopal also offers students extracurricular STEM opportunities such as Mu Alpha Theta in Upper School and Math Counts in Middle School. (Last weekend, the Middle School team took third place in the high school tournament! Read more from James Moroney here.) Both competitive math programs attract a range of students from cheerleaders and soloists to athletes and actors. The Episcopal Fab Shop also provides hands-on STEM learning experiences which appeal to a range of students.
Episcopal continues to find ways to support STEM learning. In 2018, school leaders celebrated the opening of the 27,000 square foot Academic Commons, a building that now serves as the hub for Upper School math and science. Work is now underway on the 14,700 square foot Quest Center which will serve as a center for experiential-based learning and exploration for Lower and Middle School students.
The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs, with computer occupations accounting for nearly 45 percent. According to Newsweek, “The STEM skills that only specialists have today will be expected of virtually everyone in the American workforce tomorrow.” It’s good to know that Episcopal is on the forefront of preparing tomorrow’s leaders for these fields of the future, while at the same time providing an array of creative, athletic and spiritual opportunities.
To read more about Episcopal STEM opportunities, click on the links below.
Not Just for Engineers: Four Real World Skills Coding Cultivates
From Bots to Binary Messages: A Look at Computer Science at Episcopal
Budding Scientists: Science Education in Early Childhood
Raising Tomorrow’s Critical Thinkers Today
Why Can’t We Just Send Them Water? Science Lesson Elicits Thoughtful Response