Persistence Pays: D L Jamerson Elementary School’s Road to Success

FLATE would like to share an impressive engineering technology curriculum success story right here in Tampa Bay.  D. L. Jamerson, Jr. Elementary School (DLJ) in St. Petersburg, FL, opened its doors in 2004 as a U.S. Department of Education neighborhood Magnet School Center for Mathematics and Engineering. The core teachers and school leadership met regularly for six months prior to opening in the fall of 2004 working hard to define their engineering theme and its total integration into every part of the school: the kindergarten classroom, the media center, to the PE fields, the music and art rooms, and, of course, the engineering science lab. With funding from their magnet program grant, the DLJ community went to work designing and developing its integrated curriculum, developing its on-campus outside classrooms, building partnerships and traditions, and screaming the theme of “engineering is everywhere.” Big hurdles for implementation included: the lack of engineering and strong math backgrounds of the teachers; recruiting students from outside the neighborhood; finding the right materials to support the elementary engineering challenges; building laboratory capacity, and learning how to integrate language, math, social sciences, reading with the engineering projects. 
                               
However, we all knew it should work.  Learning in a non-competitive, hands-on contextualized environment is a positive experience for students of all ages.  The total integration of the K-5 curriculum and strong alignment between grade levels are key elements of Jamerson’s students’ success.  What success?  It's amazing – just take a look!  
 (Note a Level 5 score means the student is performing two levels above their current grade level)
Why do these 5th grade science scores speak to the success of the DLJ integrated engineering education approach?  Science requires both verbal and mathematical skills as well as creative thinking. Linking an engineering challenge to the underlying science and math concepts that govern the principles behind that challenge help students “own” the whole concept—including the math.  Add in the practical aspect that “things don’t always work right so we have to ‘redo’,” using the best of what is available to fix something, starts students down the road to logical thinking, systematic and orderly troubleshooting and defining root causes.  And best of all – it’s habit forming!

Students use the same Jamerson created Engineering Design Process (Plan, Design, Check and Share) from the first day of kindergarten through the last days of 5th grade.  This approach provides a stable problem solving strategy that students can continue to use with deeper and more complex interpretations as their knowledge of math, science, and language increases over the years.  Mixing in the ‘How, Who, and What’ questions about the impact of a potential new bridge rounds out the engineering of that DLJ 5th grade design project and slides social sciences, reading, and writing into this total learning experience.

Great scores in 5th grade science are also reflective in the school's “grade”.  DLJ’s State of Florida designated school grade for 2006-07 (two years after DLJ opened their doors) was a "C".  The 2014-15 academic year marked the 4th year straight that DLJ earned an "A" rating from the state. Add this academic success to the fact that D.L. Jamerson Elementary school has also won a number of magnet school awards as well as had visitors from over 20 other states coming to see and experience this extraordinary elementary school underlines the bottom line message that Persistence pays off and an integrated engineering education approach works. 

The secret is to: keep and continuously improve the strongly integrated hands-on, engineering focused curriculum; continuous
professional development for teachers; weave in new district and state requirements without losing the core content, and strive for success for every child.  D.L. Jamerson does this with no exceptions and that has made Jamerson a great place for learning. FLATE is proud to be part of their warm and nurturing Community of Practice.

Feel free to contact us if you want more information.  Or better still, check out their website http://www.pcsb.org/jamerson-es, and then contact Lucas Hefty at heftyl@pcsb.org, and tell him Marilyn and Richard said to get in touch.