Lee has applied for a $1.85 million STEM grant from the state, with a decision forthcoming in January. The S grant is part of Tennessee’s Race to the Top designation.
Dr. Debbie Murray, dean of Lee’s School of Education, said this week the grant (if awarded) will allow the establishment of two STEM classrooms in the local school systems, one for Cleveland and a second at a Bradley County school.
These classrooms, Murray emphasized, will be to advance student achievement in the critical STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“If the grant is awarded, we will establish a hub with these two classrooms, and hopefully we can then advance to other schools throughout the region,” the Lee dean added.
She said the Cleveland area will be one hub of several placed across the state.
“We won’t say much more about this until we know if we’re going to be funded,” Murray added. She said Lee educators are working with teachers in the local school systems to write the proposal.
Tentative plans for the two-year grant will be to establish an elementary STEM school and involve Cleveland High School as a demonstration site.
Murray added that the program, if funded locally, will also work closely with the business and industrial community, since the students being trained will be taught many skills needed in those industries ... such as Wacker, Volkswagen, Amazon and others.
Although the possibility of receiving this STEM grant is currently a huge issue, Lee University and the two local school systems are closely entwined in a number of other partnerships.
Murray was the guest of the Cleveland Board of Education recently in a “Spotlight” moment, and she briefly discussed these partnership programs. She told the board that Lee and local schools first joined hands in the student teachers program more than 40 years ago.
Another program she discussed was the Lee University Developmental Inclusion Classroom, or LUDIC, which serves children on the Autism Spectrum. Lee currently works with autistic students in four school systems.
This 13-year program has six full-time students this year, and three part-time students in the Cleveland system.
“Not only is this an excellent placement for these children, with more severe learning needs, it is a very effective training ground for teachers,” Murray explained.
The Lee University dean also talked about the popular Saturday University Program Enrichment Resource for exceptional students.
“This SUPER program is designed for accelerated fourth- and fifth-graders in both the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems,” she said. “City schools serve up to 90 students for three Saturday mornings each fall and three Saturday mornings in the spring.”
Lee University students serve as instructors under the supervision of Lee professors.
This fall, the classes will concentrate on how different cultures have impacted the Cleveland and Bradley County communities.
“Students in the SUPER program are challenged with a wide variety of hands-on activities that are fast paced, challenging and designed to encourage students to dig deeper into their specific areas of interest,” said Murray.
She briefly touched on the STEPS Scholars program, which attracts and prepares a more diverse teacher population for schools in the local community and throughout the region.
This program assists teachers who commit to diverse setting to teach, such as inner-city schools. The STEPS program was established with a Tennessee Higher Education Commission grant.
Other grant programs and partnerships include Improving Numeracy and Algebraic Thinking (INAT), under Lee professor Steven Lay; the Improving Teacher Quality Grant; Mathematics in Biotechnology (MIB): Integrating Math Core Standards in Biology; and Teaching American History Grant programs under some half-dozen Cleveland teachers.
Murray pointed out the Lee University Symphonic Band has formed a very close relationship with Blythe-Bower Elementary School — one of the more “fun” projects of all the partnerships.
Blythe-Bower’s Gloria Scott-Richmond, who has been nominated five times for Tennessee Teacher of the Year with many local honors, helped initiate this program, along with Dr. Mark Bailey, professor of music at Lee and conductor of the Lee Symphonic Band.
Since 2006, members of the Lee band have taught individual and corporate band lessons to Blythe-Bower students. The program has grown to approximately 70 elementary students receiving instrumental music instruction. It has also expanded into a string instructional program.
Several of these Blythe-Bower students have gone on to upper chair placements in middle and high schools.
Murray expressed her appreciation to Cleveland school board members for working with Lee on these varied partnerships. “This is a time when the pressures on teachers and administrators are tremendous, and a strong partnership means better teacher preparation and increased achievement and learning gains for all our children,” she said.
“We look forward to exploring more ways we can effectively collaborate,” she said in closing.
“We appreciate our relationship with Lee University,” said Cleveland Director of Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff. “We probably get half of our teachers from Lee.”
School board chair Peggy Pesterfield added her appreciation to Murray, and invited her to return to future board meetings.