This story was updated May 8, 2018, at 11:16 p.m. with more information.
Two area schools, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and STEM School, have been recognized by the state for the STEM opportunities available for students.
The Tennessee Department of Education on Tuesday announced the first 15 schools in the state to receive a Tennessee STEM School designation.
Schools receiving Tennessee STEM School designation
Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Hamilton County Department of Education
DBEXCEL, Kingsport City Schools
Dr. William Burrus Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
Jack Anderson Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
Jackson Christian Elementary School, private school
L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools
Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, Shelby County Schools
Midway Elementary School, Roane County Schools
Moore Magnet Elementary School, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
Oakmont Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
Overall Creek Elementary School, Murfreesboro City Schools
Prescott South Elementary School, Putnam County School System
STEM School Chattanooga, Hamilton County Department of Education
Union Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
Whitehaven Elementary School, Shelby County Schools
"STEM-related careers are among the fastest growing in Tennessee and right now too many jobs are left unfilled, meaning our graduates are missing valuable opportunities for their futures," said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen in a statement. "I am proud to recognize these fifteen schools as STEM Designation Schools because they are providing students with the knowledge and skills to be successful in high-demand STEM careers in our state."
This designation was developed in collaboration with the STEM Leadership Council and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network and schools had to apply through a rigorous process. They were evaluated based on five key areas: infrastructure, curriculum and instruction, professional development, achievement, and community and postsecondary partnerships.
Schools completed a self-evaluation, participated in interviews, hosted site visits and submitted a plan for how the school will continue to implement and sustain STEM education in the next five years to continue to prepare students for postsecondary opportunities and future careers.
Elaine Swafford, executive director of CGLA, said the recognition was an achievement of a long-held dream by the school's founder and leaders.
"The school opened in 2009 as the first single gender, all-girls STEM school in the state of Tennessee, and now we are one of the first ones to receive the STEM designation in the state. It's been years of work toward becoming what the school opened and intended to be," Swafford said. "I know this means a lot to the founder, Dr. Sue Ann Wells. Today she was able to realize that dream."
Swafford said the school's goal was to continue preparing its girls for high-quality, in-demand jobs in STEM fields.
"I think that the expectation is there not from not only the founder but from the school's leadership and from community stakeholders that we stay true to performing at high levels," she added.
Leaders at Hamilton County's other recognized school, STEM School, a public magnet school, also are proud of the designation. STEM School was actually recognized as having a perfect score during the application process and was considered an exemplary example during the announcement ceremony Tuesday.
"The designation signifies a journey that we've been on since we opened the school," principal Tony Donen said. "They designated our school as an exemplary model of what STEM education can be for kids."
Donen said the school was most proud of its partnerships with other schools and community members in order to improve opportunities for kids throughout the region.
Next week, the school will host the fourth annual STEM Jubilee, which introduces elementary school students to a variety of hands-on activities and STEM concepts. The event will be at Coolidge Park from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on May 16-17. It is open to students across the county who will be bused in from their schools.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.