What does the future of education look like? A glimpse at the learning going on at Global Impact STEM Academy (GISA) in Springfield, Ohio may be a good place to start. At GISA – founded in 2013 – students trade in textbooks for MacBooks and the last two years of high school become the first two years of college. Educators focus on project-based interdisciplinary learning that closely resembles careers in the real world. Students leave with more than a diploma; after four years at GISA, they are already in the driver’s seat and on the road to an in-demand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) related career. All students are members of the FFA and participate in activities throughout the year in the program. Students also have the opportunity to become involved in the school’s chapter of 4-H. An orchestra, band, and choir program is available after school. As a result of forward thinking educators and staff, students are exposed to careers dealing with energy, environment, bioscience, and – thanks to a close relationship with GrowNextGen – agriculture.
GrowNextGen was developed in 2012 by the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) and soybean checkoff with the goal of bringing more science and agriculture curriculum into Ohio’s classrooms. The food, fiber and fuel sectors are at the center of the global economy and need fresh ideas and innovations to serve an ever-growing world population. GrowNextGen exists to engage the next generation and stimulate interest in these high-demand career fields.
GrowNextGen provides educators with trusted resources and the industry connections they need to bring hands-on interactions to life with agriculture and science based programs in their classrooms. GrowNextGen boasts a network of nearly 4,000 teachers, industry leaders and students; its reach has grown beyond the state of Ohio to include teachers and university professors across the county. Many of the teachers at GISA are teacher leaders for GrowNextGen and enthusiastically share their experiences and encourage other educators to get involved.
“The value of being part of the GrowNextGen network has been a tremendous resource for not only my classroom but my entire school as well,” said Rachel Sanders, science instructor as GISA. “As an ag bioscience teacher, I have instant access to current workshops, lesson plans, career videos, e-learning courses and grant opportunities for lab materials and field trips.”
At GISA, students are gaining valuable experience and leave high school prepared for college or other post-secondary education opportunities, and potentially entry level careers. The drive behind the innovation is a dedicated staff who go above and beyond the average expectations of a teacher. In addition to meeting for more than an hour at the end of each school day to discuss students and collaborate, teachers make themselves available to students for communication after hours, making sure an unanswered question does not hinder a student’s progress on an assignment.
Students are pushed to do more than pass tests at GISA; they are taught to master the subjects in the form of larger projects that require students to apply the subject matter in the form of a real life situation. This often requires the extensive use of technology and students will sometimes be required to resubmit assignments after receiving feedback on how to improve.
The philosophy behind the methods used at GISA is that students will be able to learn and grow more from these projects than a standard test would allow. Their hope is that students are inspired by the world around them and become life-long learners that have an impact in their communities and will make their mark on the future.
GISA currently enrolls 260 students in grades 9-11 and has plans to expand. In the fall of 2016, the school will enroll grades 9-12, and then in the fall of 2017, GISA will add grades 7 and 8.