Oak Grove Middle hosts day of STEM activities

By HASKEL BURNS,

For Oak Grove Middle School sixth-grader Allyson Aultman, the highlight of last week’s STEM activities was the “roller derby” game, in which students used the roll of the dice to determine probability.

“It was my favorite (activity),” she said. “I learned communication, strategy, thinking skills and planning ahead.”

Aultman was one of 71 sixth-grade gifted education students who took part in the two-day event, which was held last Wednesday and Thursday in the middle school’s choir room. The event was held in collaboration with the Mississippi School for Math and Science and gave students the chance to immerse themselves in science, technology, engineering and math activities, including the roller derby game, a “robot master” activity and popsicle stick puzzles.

“It really came out of my personal experience with my son going to MSMS,” said gifted teacher Svetlana Lucas, who oversaw the event. “He’s a senior, and I really saw how he grew and how he evolved and matured there, and I wanted to give that to some of the people that I teach in this area.

“I wanted them to know what MSMS could offer, what kinds of things they could do if they chose to go there, and showcase the school to this area.”

The students also got to hear from local professionals, including bankers, scientists and a representative from the medical school at William Carey University. Chad Hill from The Citizens Bank took a few minutes to explain to the children the importance of financial literacy.

“As you get into high school, it’s important to have a conversation with your parents about the basics of finance, because it’s something that you use every day in your adult life,” Hill said. “A lot of times, we encounter young adults who are recently out of college, and maybe they have got a few credit cards but they didn’t really understand how they work, and they kind of got themselves into trouble.

“So it’s much, much better for you to learn the basics of money and kind of what some of the different things mean, and how to manage that at a basic level at a young age. When you move on to college and you start having the opportunity to make loans or get credit cards, you’ll know a little bit about the pros and cons of those decisions.”

Student Luke Johnson said he learned the most from the popsicle sticks game.

“You had to think outside of the box in order to accomplish your goal of changing the sticks,” he said.

Leigh Alison Jones, who serves as coordinator for admissions at MSMS, was on hand to explain to the students the ins and outs of her institution. The school, which is located in Columbus, is the fourth statewide, STEM-focused public high school in the United States, and is a founding member of the National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools.

Each year, MSMS serves 11th and 12th-grade students through its residential college preparatory program.

“One our main goals right now is aggressive outreach to Mississippi schools, so it really just went hand in hand when Mrs. Lucas brought it up to me,” Jones said. “It was perfect, because we’re trying to expand outreach, and she wanted outreach, so it was just perfect.

“It’s something that I worked really hard this year – it wasn’t a big thing last year, but we want schools to see us as a partnership. Sometimes it’s hard for them to see that, but it’s easier for them to see that if I come and I help. They see that I want to invest in their students.”

Lucas said the event was held at the perfect time this year, as Mississippi recently went from 50th to 46th in fourth-grade growth scores.

“So now it’s time to really showcase what we have here in Mississippi,” she said. “At the beginning of the program, I told them that MSMS is the sixth-best school in the United States, with the number one best faculty in the United States.

“So why not let hometown, home-grown Mississippians know about that treasure that we have right here? Students are always going away, and they don’t think about coming back, but if you can let them know that we have great things here – let’s put time into those things and build them up, so it can get even greater.”

The Mississippi Bankers’ Association, area parents, Lamar County Gifted Education, the Robotics Education Foundation also assisted with the event.