Gwinnett STEM efforts introduce students to careers, employable skills

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Students created problem-solving projects for genetic diseases and disorders

A quick search online or flip through a textbook could show students how genetic diseases are passed down and affect lives.

Students in the STEM program at Hull Middle School in Gwinnett were tasked with taking the lesson a step further: How can you help people with an inherited disease or disorder manage their symptoms?

Students showed off their ideas Friday in “Shark Tank”-style pitches to parents and teachers. Staff from the district said the project contained both important science lessons and key STEM skills that would help students get jobs — in any field — one day.

Fern Henao illustrated a video comic about the challenges of muscular dystrophy to accompany model leg braces that her team created. Prapti Bhamare showed a smartwatch that her team envisioned detecting internal bleeding — a major concern for people with hemophilia. Another team imagined a sleeker vest for people with cystic fibrosis.

Students interested in health careers said they enjoyed learning about the ailments and thinking about how to help people. Everyone also got a lesson in three key areas, according to Carrie Sammons, STEM lead at Hull Middle: “communication, collaboration and problem-solving.”

While middle schoolers are years away from picking a college major, Sammons said early exposure is important to shepherding them toward STEM fields that are often in high demand with well-paid jobs. Schools bring in representatives from businesses and higher education to let students know of opportunities. District staff said they consult hospital systems and other major employers about their future needs. More Gwinnett schools are attempting to expose students at earlier ages to these worlds.

“The jobs are going to be there, and we hope these kids can see themselves in these jobs,” Sammons said.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Thirteen Gwinnett schools are STEM-certified or have STEM-certified programs through the Georgia Department of Education. The state describes schools and programs under its STEM initiatives as having “an integrated curriculum that is driven by exploratory project-based learning.”

The STEM curriculum isn’t just about experience in science, technology, engineering and math, Sammons said. By researching a disease, identifying problems, developing solutions together and articulating their work, students are practicing skills that would benefit them in any type of job interview or workplace.

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Sammons said that’s a higher level of thinking than what students have been asked to do in the past.

“It used to be about knowledge, but now you can Google anything in the world,” Jessica Holden, district director of science for grades 6-12, said. “But now this is really about applying that knowledge and seeing kids take what they know about diseases and body systems, do some math and budgeting in finding solutions.”