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The Impact of STEM in Every Grade

The Impact of STEM in Every Grade

Administrators at the PreK-12 school district in Grenada, Mississippi were looking to pioneer a new approach by integrating science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education into every grade level. And in 2016, the district began its implementation of Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curricula into all grades, from PreK-12 and serving approximately 4,000 students — a decision district leaders believe has contributed to improvements in students’ academic skills and career readiness. 

“Traditional teaching approaches were not working, so we knew that wasn’t the way we wanted to go,” recalled Carol Tharpe, Principal of Grenada Elementary 4-5. Since implementing PLTW in 2016-17, Grenada School District has elevated its district rating from C to A and is now in the top 20% of all districts in the state on the 2023 Mississippi Statewide Accountability System. 

Because of the school’s investment in PLTW curriculum, teachers have what they need to build better classroom experiences. And through those opportunities, students achieve remarkable outcomes. 

Creating a Full Pathway for STEM Learning  

Grenada has set itself apart from other districts by being the first in Mississippi to implement PLTW in every school; offering PLTW courses to PreK-12th grade students has helped Grenada maintain its status as a Mississippi District of Innovation. Since that initial meeting about implementing the curriculum, the district has now added additional PLTW Gateway units for middle school grades and high school-level PLTW pathways for computer science, engineering and biomedical science for high school levels. 

As students move from grade to grade, they have ample opportunity to engage with curriculum built for a STEM-centered world. Throughout the academic year, teachers at Grenada Elementary School integrate PLTW Launch modules into lessons that align to the material they are covering in their PreK through third-grade classrooms. The district’s gifted program also utilizes PLTW Launch as part of its curriculum. When students move into fourth and fifth grade, they begin attending the Discovery Lab once per week. The Discovery Lab is an exploratory learning space that fosters transportable skills such as problem solving, communication, and critical thinking, by incorporating PLTW curriculum into its lessons. Devon Tipton, the Discovery Lab Instructor, describes the space as “a large room in the center of the building with science tables, a large smart TV, microscopes, robots, and lots of technology” where students are challenged to collaborate and complete science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) projects.

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Transforming Learning in Middle School and High School

Students who pass through the elementary programs are familiar with many of the PLTW concepts they will encounter in middle school. One eighth-grade student described her PLTW Launch experience as the “starter” classes that “helped propel” her into the PLTW Gateway material. Students at Grenada Middle School may participate in a variety of PLTW units. For example, PLTW Science of Technology (ST) is blended into a sixth-grade science class while PLTW Automation and Robotics (AR) is available to eighth graders at the district’s Career and Technical Center—a location that allows students to observe and experience advanced technologies that await them in high school. The middle school also offers additional PLTW Gateway units, including PLTW Design and Modeling (DM) and PLTW Medical Detectives (MD).  

After building their awareness of computer science, engineering, and biomedical science in middle school, students can explore these topics further at Grenada High School, which offers courses in all three PLTW pathways. Students in the PLTW Biomedical Science program take Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS) andQuote from Shelby Boyett, former PLTW student who says "when I took that eighth grade class... I got really interested in science and prosthetics." Human Body Systems (HBS). The PLTW Engineering program offers Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), Principles of Engineering (PEO), and Aerospace Engineering (AE), while the PLTW Computer Science program consists of Computer Science Principles (CSP), Computer Science Essentials (CSE) and Cybersecurity (CS). Student interest and engagement were key drivers of the decision to add more PLTW courses. After observing a growing student interest in engineering and robotics coming from the middle school, Grenada High School formed the [Navy Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps] NJROTC cybersecurity team. By offering a wide-ranging PLTW program, the Grenada School District is building excitement around STEM and providing opportunities for students across grade levels to explore biomedical science, engineering, and computer science.

STEM Courses with Cross-Curricular Benefits 

As Grenada superintendent, Dr. David Daigneault noted, “the PLTW method of instruction engages our students and makes learning fun!” Beyond science, students have also noticed the impact of PLTW on their academic skills. One fifth-grade student shared how PLTW lessons from second and third grade helped build skills for “the different types of things we would be doing in fourth and fifth grade” and said, “it helped with organizing skills and task lists to complete things step by step.”  

At the secondary level, Grenada students report that their PLTW classes have strengthened their ability to analyze and organize information—even improving their ability to budget. A tenth grade PLTW student noted, “[In PLTW] we learn a lot about budgeting too, which is something I haven’t learned in any of my other classes. We had to build bridges and determine whether they could withstand the force of the truck we were experimenting with. Even if our bridge could support it, if it extended over a million dollars, it wasn’t plausible. We had to make sure that our bridges were both functional and affordable.” 

Grenada School District’s comprehensive PreK-12 PLTW program doesn’t just impact students’ performance in the classroom, it also prepares them for success in their chosen career path. Teachers at Grenada High School tell stories of former students who reported back on experiences in which their PLTW training helped in college and career. “I remember this one previous student who told me, ‘I felt like the top dog in the room’ because she already knew how to do the lab. She remembered doing it. She was able to be the leader of the lab,” shared Andrea Jackson, PLTW Biomedical Science Teacher. 

Even when students take a different path from the PLTW courses they completed, the impact of their transportable skills persists. Charles Pheng is a master’s student at the University of Tennessee studying aerospace engineering, but he participated in the PLTW Biomedical Science program at Grenada High School. Despite choosing a STEM pathway other than biomedical science, Pheng feels the skills he learned, like teamwork, are valuable foundation that he carries forward in his current field.

With PLTW curriculum in place, students in PreK-12 are exploring new horizons and achieving academic success, while graduates of the program are successfully pursuing passions that were ignited in PLTW programs. By continually growing access to PLTW for students throughout the Grenada School District, the possibilities are endless.


Want to accelerate student achievement, build teacher efficacy, and improve state test scores like Grenada School District? With a national leader in STEM education like PLTW on your side, you can!

Launch your STEM story here.