PLTW Distinguished Schools Reflect the Unrelenting Pursuit of Educators to Empower Students

In February, Project Lead The Way (PLTW) announced the first cohort of PLTW Distinguished Districts and Schools, a group that is leading the way in what education can – and should – look like. PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram recently visited two PLTW Distinguished Schools to meet the leaders, teachers, and students making it happen

“At PLTW, we want students to control their future and contribute to their community in meaningful ways,” Bertram said. “Sometimes we argue over the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but the reality is that it’s the foundation of our economy, and students need to be ready for that. What the leadership has created at these schools, you don’t find everywhere. It’s one thing to have vision, but it’s another thing to also have the courage to do it.”

Lincoln Middle School

A few years ago, Lincoln Middle School in Oceanside Unified School District in California looked a lot different. Like many schools across the country, students and teachers were struggling to squeeze science into the school day. With only one science teacher per grade and other electives competing for student time, the outcome was a bifurcated system in which students who were already on track to pursue science excelled while others did not have access. Today, every student takes PLTW in each grade, and the outcomes for both students and teachers are exceeding expectations.

 “We really designed it for equity,” said Principal Steve Bessant. “Before, if you loved music and wanted to play an instrument, you had to choose between PLTW and music, and we didn’t want that.”

 To begin the transformation, the school administration chose to invest in teacher training in a more meaningful way.

 “We had been taking our teachers to another training with incremental results,” Bessant said. “The teachers that went to PLTW training built such strong relationships and came back so committed to each other and the work. Our best professional development has been in science because of PLTW. It has really made the team cohesive.”

 Next, the school adjusted its required coursework. Now, all sixth grade students participate in Automation and Robotics and Design and Modeling, all seventh grade students participate in Green Architecture and Energy and the Environment, and all eighth grade students participate in App Creators.

Assistant Principal Skyler Garrahy said that while there are challenges in shifting the classroom model to a PLTW experience, the school has seen student success reach greater heights as a result. As the program grows, she says it is truly a team effort around the shared belief in pursuing the unknown as long as it is best for all kids.

“Students walk into a class in sixth grade – never having had science or project-based lessons – afraid to fail in front of their classmates,” Garrahy said. “Yet they leave Lincoln with the confidence to try, to fail, to try again, and then to continue to strive to succeed. Every challenge that we have faced is small in comparison to the warmth we experience in our hearts when our students leave us proud of their accomplishments, ready for their next adventure.”

Palmdale Aerospace Academy

From its beginning, Palmdale Aerospace Academy has been committed to preparing students for thriving careers. Given the diverse career pathway interests of the academy’s students, the school’s leadership team decided it was important that every student take PLTW.

 “We are not turning out 1,600 engineers,” said Headmaster Laura Herman. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. We are preparing students with skills that will serve them well no matter what they choose to do.”

The school’s focus on transportable skills that are in demand across industries transcends the PLTW courses all students take.

 “I would love to capture the unintended consequences of this curriculum,” Herman said. “It’s not just limited to PLTW; every class is about collaboration, and it comes from the student experience.”

 To learn more, view the full list of PLTW Distinguished Districts and Schools.

Stay current on Vince’s travels – and the latest in education and workforce development news – by following him on Twitter at @VinceBertram