FAIRBORN — The welcome sign says “The Real World Starts Here.” On one wall hangs a Periodic Table of the Elements written in Chinese. And one student project involved learning the mathematics of origami that could be applied to a mission to Mars.
It’s all at the Dayton Regional STEM School, a Wright State University affiliate in Kettering that uses project-based learning to teach students in grades six through 12.
The public school, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, was recently ranked by a local media source as the top performing high school in the Dayton area, topping schools in Springboro, Centerville, Oakwood and 36 others. The newspaper gave the STEM school an A-plus, noting its student/teacher ratio of 18:1 and its 85 and 83 percent proficiency in math and reading, respectively.
“The students who come here have great outcomes. And our project-based learning model is really exciting for them,’ said David Goldstein, chair of Wright State’s Department of Biological Sciences who serves as the president of the STEM school’s board. “Students respect each other and have a very strong sense of connectedness and constructive engagement.”
The state-funded school opened in 2009 and in June 2013 graduated its first class — talented seniors bound for the likes of Wright State, Emory, Purdue, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and other colleges.
It is one of 44 public STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) designated schools across Ohio. They are designed to offer students a relevant, real-world education that prepares them for college and the working world. The students participate in inquiry and project-based instruction that marries traditional STEM content with social studies, language arts, the fine arts, and wellness and fitness. And the school serves as a training center to disseminate best practices across the region and state in the pedagogy of problem-based learning.
There are currently about 670 students — from 30 different school districts in six counties. There were 90 students in the first class, which was only ninth grade. The school later expanded to include grades six to 12. So far, there have been six graduating classes yielding more than 300 graduates.
About 30 percent of the school’s graduates attend Wright State, including several valedictorians. The majority go to college in Ohio.
“We view that as evidence of success because it helps build the 21st century talent pool for Ohio,” said Goldstein.
Four of every five students at the school plan to major in a STEM-related field in college. The national average is only one in four.
“And we infuse the STEM principles in the arts and the humanities,” said Stephanie Adams, the school’s community outreach director. “So whether they’re going into a STEM field or not, they’re still learning 21st century skills.”