Opening the Door to Students’ Futures: Success Stories From PLTW Distinguished Districts and Schools

The PLTW recognition program is designed to honor districts and schools committed to increasing student access, engagement, and achievement in their PLTW programs – and we were proud to recognize over 30 PLTW Distinguished Districts and over 350 PLTW Distinguished Schools during the program’s inaugural year.

We asked these districts and schools to share their success stories to inspire and empower others. Here are some of the amazing stories they submitted:

Pyron Elementary, PLTW Distinguished School – PLTW Launch

Christel Thompson, Principal

Implementation of PLTW has resulted in high student engagement as well as a teacher shift in pedagogy. Teachers are adapting to a different way of instructing and challenging students with the growth mindset.

Mrs. Kathy Gregory, a second grade PLTW Launch Lead Teacher, says, "I love that the design process taught in PLTW stretched into other parts of our curriculum. My students are much better problem-solvers than they have ever been before. Students are engaged; I see all students participating, rather than just one or two doing all of the work. Because of the success I have seen in PLTW, I have used cooperative learning more in all subject areas." 

Some of her students have this to say: "We get to use our imagination. We get to work as a team. We get to be creative. It isn’t like actual work. You are learning stuff, but having fun at the same time."

Mr. Jeremy Pitts, a second grade PLTW Launch Lead Teacher, says, "PLTW has transformed my teaching experience by providing a solid, hands-on, engineering-focused science curriculum. It takes the guesswork out of planning. The students always cheered when I said to get out their PLTW folders; that is proof of an increase in engagement. I like teaching it, so I don’t have to put on a show for the kids; it’s all genuine."

All of his students wrote a reflection on this year's learning with PLTW. Here are some of their thoughts:

Jude says, “I learned so much that I am on third and fourth grade work. I have learned from my failures and mostly have successes. I am looking forward to third grade and beyond.” Arely says, "I am so happy that this school is working hard with ideas." Isabella says, "We learned about pollinators and all that jazz!” Pablo says, "Now I know how to make a game by myself, so when I get out of school, I am going to make a game."

Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, PLTW Distinguished School  High School

William Jones, Teacher and STEM Program Director

PLTW has prepared our students and opened the door to their futures. That is what it is all about. Graduates have been accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Virginia Tech. Our school has been recognized by UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering as a top engineering resource school in Maryland.  

Our PLTW program has allowed the formation of corporate partnerships that have provided summer internships for our students. These opportunities allow the students to see and experience the real world of engineering.

Fulton & Alsbury Academy, PLTW Distinguished School – PLTW Gateway

Dr. Andy Glatfelter, Principal

Although causation might be difficult to prove, we have both correlations and anecdotal evidence that our PLTW coursework is having a profoundly positive impact on student achievement. Students in our program have much higher attendance rates, and students say they feel engaged in their learning. Our state test data is the highest in the history of the school district, and our students are working hard every day, both in their engineering elective and in their other coursework. Our middle schoolers have won scholarships, contests, and robotics championships, giving them confidence in their skills.

Read more about Fulton & Alsbury Academy.

Riverside High School, PLTW Distinguished School – High School

Tim Velegol, PLTW Engineering Program Coordinator

Two data points from the class of 2017 reveal the impact that the PLTW program has had on Riverside:

  1. All students are required to take the ACT as juniors. Of the 350 students who graduated in the class of 2017, 90 were PLTW students. The PLTW student ACT average: 24. The school’s overall ACT average for the class of 2017: 15. 
  2. As seniors, students who are “CTE completers” are required to take the ACT WorkKeys test. Of the 90 engineering program students who took the test, six were rated at a platinum level of performance (only one other student in all of Durham Public Schools’ nine high schools earned this distinction). Of the cohort of 90 students, 57 received a gold or platinum rating, indicating that those students are deemed workplace-ready for 90 percent or more of the jobs in the ACT database.  

Graduation rates of Riverside’s PLTW students has been 100 percent in the 10 years that information has been tracked. The ripple effect on all other metrics can only be inferred.

Star City School District, PLTW Distinguished District

Gina Richard, 6-12 STEM Curriculum Coordinator and Principal of Star City Middle School

Star City School District offers PLTW in grades K-12. This provides opportunities for all of our students to participate upon entering our district. Teachers across the district have embraced the initiative and Star City School District has propelled forward in Arkansas to be recognized as a premier STEM school district.

Project Lead The Way provides a rigorous and relevant curriculum to prepare our students for college and careers. By having high expectations for learning, students rise to the challenge of PLTW early in their learning experiences and continue to drive their learning throughout high school. Students from all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds embrace the challenge of PLTW and Advanced Placement coursework upon entering high school.

Since implementing PLTW in 2012, student achievement performance has increased at Star City High School in both end-of-year course testing in literacy, algebra, and biology, as well as ACT testing.

Northwood Elementary, PLTW Distinguished School – PLTW Launch

Erin Bechtold, Principal

Every student at Northwood Elementary participates in the PLTW Launch program in grades K-6. We feel that the focus on STEM education is important to implement at an early age. By encouraging students to use critical-thinking skills and collaboration with their peers, they become more engaged with their learning.

One of my PLTW Launch teachers shared: “PLTW has given new life to my classroom. The content is exciting and rigorous. Students work collaboratively and with persistence to find new solutions to the problems presented. The level of engagement is so high that student attendance improves while we are working on a PLTW module. The students and I love every second of PLTW instruction, and it has transformed our classroom into a space where finding value in our mistakes has become a critical part of the learning process.”

Uncommon Charter High School, PLTW Distinguished School – High School

Catherine Garland, Teacher

Our PLTW courses allow student learning to become "real." In Introduction to Engineering Design, students design solutions to REAL human problems at the end of the year. For example, students designed and printed battery holders for the AP Physics teacher (me!) and are designing and printing a device to keep our laptop cables organized. They also design and print solutions for less pressing problems, such as a cat-shaped device to keep a teacher's headphone cables from tangling.

In Aerospace Engineering, students get the chance to design, build, and launch balsa wood gliders. Most students have never built anything out of wood before and they love this experience. Here are quotes from two students currently in Aerospace Engineering:

"I really enjoy Aerospace Engineering because it is nothing like my other classes. While I'm forced to learn something I don't want to in other classes, here I want to learn whatever is being taught. In my other classes, I give just as much effort, but the effort in this class is genuine."

"What makes me try in this class is the fact that it's fun. Most of my classes are just, 'Here's your work; now complete it.'  I try more in this class because I learn new things, and in my regular classes, I've been learning the work for years."

Edgewood Middle School, PLTW Distinguished School – PLTW Gateway

Abbi Richcreek, Teacher

PLTW has created dynamic and innovative classes that spark interest in students. I believe the implementation of PLTW has improved student achievement by introducing real-world scenarios to the classroom.

This program has also inspired students to try new experiences. I continually strive to have students be involved in unique collaborations and experiences. For example, we worked with the Michiana Event Center and had our Nao humanoid robot, Rowdy, ride a horse. We performed with our robot at the Wild West Show, where 7,000 people attended each night.

The program recognition process is now open for the 2018-19 PLTW Distinguished School and District designation. Districts and schools wishing to receive recognition can fill out the validation form on the Program Recognition page with their 2017-18 data until Dec. 21. PLTW will notify award recipients in February 2019.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.