Students working on drones.

White Pine High School, under the leadership of principal Becky Murdock, assistant principal Alan Hedges, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) coach Julie Gonzales, has been awarded the designation as an “Official Nevada Governor’s STEM School” by the Nevada STEM Advisory Council.  The recognition came after many members of the staff and a number of students hosted the Nevada STEM Advisory Council on a Friday to showcase the innovative college and career ready approaches being utilized in the school.

The school has long focused on rigor and relevance within the classroom, attempting to combine learning experiences which utilize high levels of complex thought with connections to life outside of high school.  Each staff member is at a different level of expertise in this approach, but 2016-2017 has seen a renewed energy put into the idea thanks to the school’s College and Career Ready grant, which funds Gonzales’s position as well as provides for Friday training and work by teachers.  She observes and provides feedback to teachers regarding STEM practices and plans training modules that fit their needs and help them take action in becoming more effective at challenging students and still providing the support necessary for students’ success.

Gonzales has taught two courses throughout the year in addition to her work with teachers: STEM Careers and STEM Physics.  These two courses have featured student centered learning and hands on activities where participants constantly search for solutions to complex problems.  Students also learn about STEM related jobs and how STEM is used in everyday life.  STEM Physics students are currently building drones through the assistance of the Nevada Cooperative Extension office and coordinate Juan Carlos Cervantes.  Dr. Cervantes offered the tools, program, and assistance to students and they have risen to the challenge, incorporating the learning for the year into the task of building, programming, and piloting the drones.

In fact, the drone project was a big part of what members of the STEM Advisory Council saw during their visit to the school.  Students volunteered part of their Friday to show off their learning.  STEM Physics student Collin Young noted, “This has been one of my most favorite classes in all of high school.  It’s not been easy because Mrs. Gonzales has created problems for us that don’t always have one answer.  That’s tough when as students we’re used to either getting something right or wrong.  I’ve loved building the drone and am proud of my school so I was happy to show off what I’ve learned about the drones to the STEM people.”

STEM is not just for teachers in those content fields.  Gonzales has worked with all content teachers through the year, and many of them also participated in the showcase to talk about how STEM practices have influenced their professional practice.

Principal Becky Murdock reported, “I’m so proud of this staff and the students who work every day to be better learners.  Education is a difficult field, and moreso now than ever.  It’s a great privilege to work with these talented adults and students as we work together to stretch each other and reach our goals.  This school has received many honors over the years, including being a Nevada Model School, an International Center for Leadership in Education Model School, and Professional Learning Communities Model School.  So being recognized is nothing new, but it’s exciting and inspiring to see the continued dedication that so many students and staff members put forth to achieve excellence.”