State School Superintendent John Barge on Tuesday called the Cherokee County School District "visionary" to implement a science, technology, engineering and math academy at the elementary school level.
"The minds of children, they're like sponges at this age," Barge said. "The more you can introduce them to, the more you can keep them in."
Barge toured the system's first STEM school, Clark Creek Elementary, observing the STEM lab, where students work engineering projects; the math lab; and the global lab, where classes can video chat with students in other countries. On Tuesday, Clark Creek students chatted with children in Ghana, Africa, watching a presentation the African students had put together and asking questions about the weather and houses in the tropical country.
"I think it is really good for kids to be able to see that and to see that there is a world out there that they don't see every day," Barge said.
After years of work, officials have said that the school system launched other STEM Academies this year at Ball Ground Elementary, Canton and Holly Springs elementary schools, and Fine Arts Academies at Hasty and Oak Grove elementary schools. District Spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said that, while there are no plans to open additional STEM Academies next year, staff at all elementary schools are being encouraged to incorporate STEM concepts into curriculum and activities. Plans are to open advanced academies at the middle school level next fall and eventually a High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. And, a Technical High School Academy is slated for the current Teasley Middle School facility once that school moves into its new building.
The superintendent toured three local schools on Tuesday and said he chose to visit Cherokee County because of its SAT scores are among the top in the state.
"We needed to come and see what is so special about Cherokee," he said. "How are you getting the scores you're getting?"
At Woodstock High School, Barge visited the Advanced Placement Physics lab, a world history class, the broadcast production lab and a graphic design class. He also observed a nutrition and wellness class, where students in chef's hats were busy cooking, and spent some time in the school's engineering lab. In that class, students can create cataplts, build custom circuit boards and work on robots.
"Anything besides cooking they can do here," teacher Karen Zayance said.
The class also has been building an electric go-kart that has been clocked at 45 miles per hour and could go as fast as 50 miles per hour.
"I don't like driving that fast in something so small," Zayance said.
Barge also toured Woodstock Middle School before ending his day at Clark Creek, where he said he was imprssed by the abstract concepts like gear ratios being taught in the STEM lab.
"That's pretty cool," he said.