February 05, 2014 - Oxford Community School's Academy of Engineering and Technology and Middle School Pre-Engineering Program once again received spotlight attention. The Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA) honored the district's program as a Winner's Circle Award Recipient on Jan. 23.
Oxford Asst. Supt. Dr. James Schwarz (left) and Supt. Dr. William Skilling show off the Winner's Circle Award. (click for larger version)
According to a press release, "the goal of the Winner's Circle is to give recognition to members whose leadership has launched or adapted an effective program or practice, that achieves results, and that could be replicated in other districts."
The district's Academy of Engineering and Technology and Middle School Pre-Engineering Program is a comprehensive program designed to expose and prepare students for higher education in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). The program reaches students 6th-12th grades.
Students at Oxford Middle School are immersed in a project-based, pre-engineering curriculum designed to challenge and inspire their ingenuity. The students utilize real-world software to solve complex problems during eight 9-week Project Lead The Way courses (PLTW). Students at Oxford High School have more than 80 different STEM courses are available, including four PLTW engineering courses, two robotics engineering courses, three college engineering classes, and four PLTW bio-medical classes.
"Our teachers are the backbone of this program," said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. James Schwarz. "They have brought a unique skill set from working in the industries into our classrooms. With their backgrounds, they are able to mimic a real-world, project-based workplace right in our schools."
Superintendent Dr. William Skilling said starting the pre-engineering program at the middle school level and having it required that every student go through the program has helped "create an awareness about the many STEM opportunities that are available," not just in engineering, but other technical fields and computer science.
"It also lays the foundation for more complex, creative problem solving," Skilling added.
As a result, the district has seen tremendous growth in the STEM programs at the high school.
"Since implementing the Engineering Academy, interest in our engineering, technology, and bio-medical programs of study has increased dramatically, especially in our female population," Schwarz said. "This year, the Engineering Academy has almost 400 students participating in STEM courses, of which one quarter is female."
Skilling agreed that the increase in female participation is a big deal.
"Females traditionally don't pursue STEM careers," he said. "Yet, we need to change that and we need to get more women in the STEM careers because they are just as capable as men and, given the shortage we have in this country of engineers, (it) is really important."
Almost two years ago, Skilling said Chysler alone was short 700 engineers, so he sees where the need for engineers is definitely out there, which is why future growth of the program is exciting to him.
"This school (district) is aligning itself for what the needs are locally, statewide and nationally with this program," he added.
Not only has growth taken place in STEM related classes, but student participation in the district's extracurricular robotics program has exploded as well.
The district offers the First Lego League (FLL) to elementary students first through fifth grade and Robotics Team opportunities at the middle and high school level.
The Oxford Middle School TOW-R Team won the 2012 First Tech Challenge (FTC) State Championship.
The high school TORC Team qualified for the elimination bracket in the Michigan First Robotics Competition (FRC) 2013 Championship. The team also received a $5,000 donation from The Chrysler Foundation for the 2014 competition year.
While the district says the partnerships with Eastern Michigan University, Kettering University, Lawrence Tech, and Oakland University have helped with the success of Academy of Engineering and Technology, Skilling pointed out that it wouldn't be successful without the leadership of Schwarz.
"I am really glad MASA has recognized the work (of) Dr. Schwarz, our principals at the middle school, high school and our teachers," Skilling noted. "I like to see people who have gone above and beyond to create excellence and new opportunity for kids to be recognized."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.