Published 6:46 pm Sunday, December 21, 2014
WINDSOR – It’s the newest high school, to its students it may or may not be the “coolest” high school; but now it has another moniker it can lay claim to: “best” high school.
Niche.com, an online service that ranks over 120,000 schools nationwide with parent and student input, reviews, polls, positive culture and other statistics, has just unveiled its 2015 list of the Best Public High Schools. Seven of those schools are located in eastern North Carolina and one is in the Roanoke-Chowan region.
Number 55 out of 460 public schools and in the Top-100 is Bertie STEM High School located here in its first-year in a new facility at 715 US-13 North as part of the new Bertie High School.
Though they share the same housing, the two schools are uniquely different.
STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, which is the core curriculum of the school, seeks to primarily prepare students for the high-tech world.
Bertie STEM has nine teachers, a school counselor, and a principal that serve around 200 students. Daphne Williams has held the principal’s post since 2012 after a more than 18-year veteran career as a classroom teacher. She says there’s a difference between the traditional high school and the innovative STEM high school.
“The setting is smaller,” Williams says, seated around a table in her spacious office. “All of the classes are honors classes so it challenges kids more. Kids are a little more focused here because they have more of a sense of knowing what they want to do before they get to the 12th grade so they’re working on that pathway of preparing.
Williams says STEM students know the curriculum at their school is a little more college and career ready; achieving student achievement and academic success.
“Sometime at the traditional high school, students don’t wake up until about their junior (11th grade) year, and then realize what they have or haven’t taken in school; whereas with STEM it’s a different mindset with most of our students. Our teachers are more determined that kids are successful because they stay over at the school all times of the day, pushing and pulling students during the day and they have to have a love for what they do. However they can get kids to think out of the box that will cause the creativity to equal the opportunity. This is the vision they’re working toward.”
Williams praises her staff, saying the teachers’ desire to see kids succeed makes a difference.
One of those making a difference is Spanish teacher Angela Rivas who is a former “Teacher of the Year”, and now in her third year on staff at Bertie STEM.
All STEM students must take two Foreign Languages as part of their high school curriculum.
“We’ve always felt a big responsibility for the students,” Rivas says. “We’re encouraged to take on projects and not be discouraged because the school is small.
“Regardless of if it’s the Science teacher, or the Math teacher, or Social Studies, or myself in Foreign Language, we go beyond the content to fix our problems, and we do the same with students,” she maintained.
Rivas says the staffers all stress intervention; helping each other assist each individual student.
“I say (to other STEM teachers) never lose the vision of why the school was founded in the first place,” Rivas continued, “that is to provide specialized opportunities for students in the fields of science, engineering, and math. Rural schools may have limited resources, but when you work together you can become creative in finding ways to open those doors of opportunity.”
School Counselor Sharon Tann has been on staff at Bertie STEM since it was founded in 2008 under Principals Charles Green and later Glenwood Mitchell.
“We were one of the first to start the new schools concept: that of a small school within a large comprehensive school concept,” Tann said. “The idea was, and is, to target students for STEM careers.
“At the time, schools were low-performing; so the idea was to increase the student’s performance,” she states. “While increasing the performance you are also preparing them for the real world.”
STEM high schools across the state in larger metropolitan areas may feature curriculum as varied as pre-Med, dental, robotics, and electronics.
“We were a broader concept because we found out students weren’t able to come in and now do a job without having to spend a lot of money on in-house re-training,” Tann added. “That’s part of our preparation: college, real life, and careers; that’s what we focus on.”
Bertie STEM hopes to add an engineering instructor to staff in the near future; a position that was eliminated under the current budget cuts.
“We’ll finally have the “E” back in STEM”, Tann says with delight. “We can now push engineering as a career.”
Kiani Strong, from Colerain, is a fourth-year Bertie STEM student. She hopes to study forensic pathology at UNC-Chapel Hill beginning next fall.
“I liked how STEM prepares me for a career in the medical field with courses like anatomy, business communications, and the two foreign languages,” Strong emphasized. “Kids here now have that option of preparing for the science/tech field thanks to our versatility.”
Tann says there is still one creed that the staffers at Bertie STEM have always abided by.
“We want to make sure our students are ready,” she says with an air of determination. “They may come from a small county, but they’re going to be prepared for real life. We’re just as good as anyplace else.”