Trinity Home School Offers STEM Education through Experiential Learning and “Made in Florida” Industry Tours

When you think of school, you often think of teachers, principals, one-on-one interaction with classmates, or if you like even a physical building/location. Then too, with changing economic and social structures, the traditional concept of schools, or attending one, is rapidly changing. The academic horizon has metamorphosed and students and parents have many options, one of which is homeschooling.

In Florida, the network of homeschools has quickly expanded with more than 48,000 families accounting for
72,408 students that are currently being homeschooled, an increase of over 15,000 students since 2006. (Source: Florida Department of Education). Trinity Homeschool Academy (THA) in Tampa is one such school currently offering students in the greater Tampa Bay region the option to be homeschooled. THA was established three years ago, and offers kindergarten through high school classes to 150 families in Tampa bay. Tonya Walters, founder and director of THA says the idea was to provide a centralized location of learning for students, parents and teachers. THA’s mission is to “provide age-appropriate structured teaching disciplines in all fields of learning, assist parents in becoming more effective educators and to offer a Christian-worldview perspective to its students.”

In keeping with most homeschools, parents and students have the flexibility to choose classes and academic
load each semester. Specialized teachers enjoy the option to teach a subject they are most interested in, or are passionate about. The school currently offers a range of classes that cover STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) related subjects to art, drama, music, Spanish, and robotics. Walters who is a strong proponent in integrating STEM into everyday curriculum says her goal is to give students a range of options that will help them develop confidence. Walters firmly believes that students should get as much experience and exposure to these fields so that when they enter the workforce they are ready to compete in a global playing field.

Most students at THA start their STEM experience with robotics. The school currently has a robotics club, and plans to offer robotics classes for K12 students in the next academic session. High school aged students are set to participate in VEX related challenges, while the lower and middle school students are scheduled to work with Lego®Mindstorms® . To enhance their experience, understanding and interest in robotics, THA recently collaborated with FLATE to organize a field trips for students.

During the trip to HCC Brandon, students (grades 2-8) toured FLATE’s high-tech manufacturing lab,
engaged in a mini LEGO based design activity and learned about current and upcoming technologies that they could be engaged in, in the future. They also got to meet Brandon—FLATE’s super famous robot who has a reputation of charming all onlookers. Owen Waugh, a fourth grader and Tyler Hibberd, a third grader, were highly thrilled to see the “robot in action.” Tyler and Owen, both aspiring engineers agreed that the most “fun” part of their trip was learning how to program a robot. Indeed the tour was highly engaging for most students, and served in expanding their understanding of engineering and the possibilities it offers. “I hope the tour will help develop a desire and passion for robotics and STEM, and an interest to pursue it in future” Walters said. The visit to the Engineering Technology labs at HCC was the 5th “Made in Florida” tour of the 2012-2013 school year. THA students and parents also visited Publix Dairy, Southern Manufacturing Technology, Alessi Bakery, and Valpak earlier in the school year.

Outside of robotics, THA offers a more experiential, or problem-based learning approach for aspiring
scientists and mathematicians. The “young scientist” class for example gives students hands-on experience writing and developing scientific methods. “Engineering Explorers” program is yet another tool for students to explore engineering concepts and their applications in everyday life. “Given the economy and the way everything is changing around us, it is important for students to develop core strengths in STEM” said Walters. To that effect, she applauds FLATE in “serving a greater purpose in educating and creating awareness about STEM-based opportunities for students.” As the partnership strengthens, Walters hopes to offer additional opportunities and field trips for THA students that could serve as a “hook” in creating interest in STEM and high-tech jobs.

For more information on THA contact Tonya Walters at info@trinityhomeschoolacademy.org, or visit www.trinityhomeschoolacademy.org. To organize a school trip to a local manufacturing facility, or take a tour of FLATE’s manufacturing lab contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.madeinflorida.org, and www.fl-ate.org.