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Little Elm ISD Announces its First STEM Certified School

April 30, 2020

What usually takes a year, took only four months to complete. Hackberry Elementary teachers took an aggressive approach to ensure their campus earned its National Certificate for STEM Education (NCSE). Hackberry second grade teacher Vanessa Del Valle said they decided to do their best to finish early for all of the students. “We wanted to leverage all of the benefits this program has to offer in our upcoming school year. We are looking forward to starting this journey next year and honored to be part of this next chapter.” 

This makes Hackberry the eighth campus in the Dallas Ft. Worth area to earn a National STEM certification through the National Institute for STEM Education, or NISE. Prestwick STEM Academy is currently working on their certification.

The NCSE recognizes individual school campuses for their commitment to, and growth in, teachers’ implementation of 21st Century and STEM strategies. Evolving from STEM professional development and curriculum created at Rice University, NISE STEM certificates integrate the most recent research and best practices in STEM, 21st Century Learning, and professional development.

Stephen Richardson, Hackberry principal is excited to welcome the NISE team to his campus next fall as they place a banner on the school recognizing Hackberry as a National STEM School. “Our teachers will create learning experiences that include engineering, robotics, and coding,” said Richardson. “Additionally, we will integrate the STEM curriculum so that students will learn content through project-based learning experiences as well as integrate inquiry-based learning and problem-solving across all core content areas.”

Hackberry will have eight nationally STEM certified teachers: Sarah Romig, Vanessa Del Valle, Beulah Mathews, Christina Bonner, Cristina Biggs, Dalia Sandoval, and Gloria Geisler. Kelli Martin is still in progress to complete her certification. “These teachers had to complete 38 indicators individually to reflect upon their teaching,” said Jennifer Bernabo, Science coordinator for Little Elm ISD. “They also had to find ways to help increase their instruction to be more student-focused, cross-curricular, increase rigor and relevance, and integrate science and engineering practices into the classroom.”

Hackberry started this quest in mid-December 2019. STEM certified process is no easy task. It is robust and thorough as it requires teachers to complete their teacher certifications while meeting as a STEM leadership team to review and conduct action research on their campus. The STEM Team conducted a needs assessment, created action steps and plans to integrate STEM into curriculum and instruction, and to build in comprehensive STEM professional development to monitor and adjust Hackberry’s STEM action plan. The STEM Leadership team had to complete 27 action steps in order to complete their certification.  

“We know that it is the elementary years when students form their interests in STEM identities and careers,” said Richardson. “This certification has given our teachers the proper training to help students be even more creative and critical thinkers in the classroom.”

Prestwick STEM Academy is slated to complete its certification by the summer.

Dr. Cyndy Mika, assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Learning, said these campus certifications will eventually benefit all of our campuses as the District continues to implement STEM education across the District. “This certification is important to the District as it shows a commitment from two of our campuses above and beyond the District expectation for STEM implementation at the elementary level. It is our hope that in future years, all of our elementary campuses will complete the necessary requirements to become a NISE STEM Certified campus,” said Mika.