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The kids are having a blast in the classroom

Halifax County Schools District reinvigorates middle school learning using Pitsco STEM labs

Published February 7, 2024
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Middle school students in the Halifax County district in North Carolina are brimming with excitement. The opening of two new Pitsco STEM Expeditions® labs at each of the county’s schools is proving to be a big hit, with pupils keen to try their hand at a range of hands-on, career-focused activities.

It’s music to the ears of Dr. LaVonne McClain, the executive director of secondary education and CTE in Halifax County Schools. “It does my heart good to see students excited about learning [. . . and] getting the opportunity to have hands-on experience and to problem-solve.”

The labs are crucial to Halifax County’s Career and Technical Education programs, which give students the chance to gain the academic and technical skills, knowledge, and training needed to succeed in their future careers.

But they haven’t always been a hub of excitement or curiosity. “Last year, when you walked into a middle school lab, it was a traditional computer lab,” Dr. McClain recalls. “You had your computers lined up along the side and students just on programs for keyboarding. Simple coding, but not anything where they were actually delving into hands on.”

PROMOTING COLLABORATION

However, after receiving a CTE monetization grant, Dr. McClain and her team took the opportunity to renovate and upgrade the dated labs in favor of something more engaging. After talking with Pitsco Education Advisor Mary Metters (or the “Pitsco guru” as Dr. McClain likes to call her), they made the leap to outfit their schools with Pitsco Expeditions solutions, which include everything from digitally delivered curriculum and learning management system to all the hands-on resources needed to complete the activities, along with furniture to accommodate 24 students in each classroom.

It’s a decision that’s clearly paid off. Thanks to the spacious design and welcoming environment, Dr. McClain says students can now collaborate more easily. “The principal at Enfield Middle told me [. . .] the kids were so excited when putting together circuits” and they were actually having “academic discourse.” Mr. Derrick Lively, Enfield Middle STEAM Academy CTE teacher, added, “Furthermore, as a middle grades CTE teacher, I am thrilled to witness the positive impact of Pitsco STEM Expeditions labs on our students. The lab is a lively learning space where students are collaborating and problem-solving. I look forward to seeing how these experiences shape their academic and future career paths.”

It’s through this kind of collaborative learning that Halifax County Schools have been able to help students acquire valuable skills such as adaptability, critical thinking, empathy, and communication at an early age. Whatever their chosen career path, Dr. McClain believes teaching these skills is essential to building a robust workforce that meets the needs of local employers. And, of course, “the kids are having a blast in the classroom” too.

For other schools that might be considering Pitsco’s solutions, Dr. McClain has some words of reassurance. She says the whole process – from ordering through to installation – was “seamless” and pain free. “It happened over the summer, which was perfect. The Pitsco team came in [and] they were friendly, quick, and efficient with all the setup.” The professional development side of the project was also a smooth and positive experience. During their training, teachers were able to fully engage with Pitsco facilitators, ask their questions, and really delve into the program.

THE BIG PICTURE

Although the Pitsco Expeditions labs are a relatively new addition to the region’s middle schools, Dr. McClain is already seeing their potential. She’s hoping the new labs will help her team to secure their next round of CTE funding, while enabling parents to appreciate the true value of technical education – both in the classroom and beyond. “I’m also hoping it takes some of the guesswork out of my eighth graders as they transition to the high schools.” Lively adds, “Our goal extends beyond the classroom – we strive to prepare our future workforce that will have a lasting impact on our community. In the end, it’s not only about acquiring a diploma but also gaining the necessary credentials that will empower our students to thrive in the ever-evolving global landscape.”

But Dr. McClain’s ambition doesn’t stop there. Currently, around 50 percent of Halifax County residents either don’t have a diploma or a GED – stats that Dr. McClain is looking to change. “Ultimately, my goal is for our students to graduate not only with their diploma but also with a certification from Halifax Community College,” she says. “We’re building global citizens, but we’re also building our local economy and a stronger workforce that will have a greater impact on our community.”


Read all articles in our full publication, Hands-On Heroes: CTE Stories of Innovation and Impact.

“Young learners benefit from the quality of Pitsco products. The straw rockets, tape measure racers, bridges, KaZoon Kites, as well as straw structure activities allow them to question, explore, wonder, create, and investigate while learning.”

– Rena Mincks, first-grade teacher, Jefferson Elementary, Pullam, Washington

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