By Heather Bell
RADFORD – McHarg and Belle Heth elementary schools have been recognized as 2021-22 Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Distinguished Schools.
The schools are two of just 282 schools across the U.S. to receive the honor, given “for providing broad access to transformative learning opportunities for students through PLTW Launch,” a nonprofit organization that serves millions of PreK-12 students and teachers in schools across the country.
The PLTW Distinguished School recognition honors schools “committed to increasing student access, engagement, and achievement in their PLTW programs.” To be eligible for the designation, schools had to have at least 75 percent of the student body participating in at least one PLTW Launch program during the 2020-21 school year.
Blenna Patterson, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, STEM Coordinator, and PLTW Coordinator for Radford City Public Schools, explained how the program works in Radford.
“Students in Radford City are involved in Project Lead the Way modules starting in kindergarten,” said Patterson via email. “Radford City Public Schools started PLTW from the ground (grades kindergarten-second) and are working our way up. Because of this, McHarg Elementary School and Belle Heth Elementary School qualify for the Distinguished School Awards. These modules are integrated mostly with math, science, and language arts SOLs.
“Each module, at the elementary level, has three activities and a project that prepares students to solve a final project,” Patterson said. “Each module takes about 10 hours to complete. McHarg and Belle Heth do one per quarter.”
Patterson said that once a student advances to secondary school, the program continues at a more advanced level.
“Once students move to the middle school they are offered PLTW Gateway modules to participate in and then at the high school, PLTW is a complete course,” she said. “All modules in kindergarten through high school fit in three categories: computer science, engineering, or biomedical engineering.
“Radford City Public Schools have been working for the last five years to build these three pipelines from kindergarten to high school,” Patterson said. “This year, we have successfully created the computer science pipeline, so we anticipate qualifying for the PLTW Distinguished School District next year.”
Radford City Public Schools Superintendent Robert Graham said the designation is an honor and shows the commitment of the school division’s staff and students alike.
“I continue to be amazed at the outstanding recognition this special school division receives,” said Graham. “To be recognized as a Project Lead the Way Distinguished school at both McHarg and Belle Heth is a great honor and a true testament to the outstanding staff members and students who work so hard to be innovative, creative, and 21st-century teachers and learners. I am very proud of Radford City Public Schools and congratulate all who were involved in helping us receive this prestigious award.”
“Studies show that students decide as early as elementary school whether they like and think they are good at, math and science,” according to PLTW. “Whether designing a car safety belt or building digital animations based on their own short stories, PLTW Launch students engage in critical and creative thinking, build teamwork skills, and develop a passion for and confidence in STEM subjects.”
“We are honored to recognize McHarg and Belle Heth Elementary schools for their unwavering commitment to providing students with an excellent educational experience despite the last two years having been some of the most challenging in recent history for students and educators across the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. David Dimmett, Interim President and CEO of PLTW. “They should be very proud of their achievements in unlocking their students’ potential and equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in life beyond the classroom no matter what career path they choose.”