The Reynoldsburg school district is one of two districts in Ohio to offer a K-12 STEM pipeline, thanks to official state STEM school designations awarded to Herbert Mills and Summit Road elementary schools.

The other is Northwestern Local Schools in Wayne County, according to Brittany Halpin, associate director for media relations at the Ohio Department of Education.

"This is a major accomplishment, not only for our students and the district, but for Ohio," Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning said. "STEM-based learning remains a priority in our district as we work to ensure that all of our students leave us college- and career-ready."

Baldwin Road Junior High, eSTEM Academy and (HS)2 Academy are already state designated STEM schools.

Herbert Mills Principal Brian Coffey and Summit Principal Melissa Drury were presented with the STEM designations last week at the Ohio Department of Education.

Coffey said his first reaction was "relief," followed by "absolute enthusiasm."

"The first nine schools (that applied) were either rejected or approved with conditions," he said. "Once we were announced, I thought of our kids and staff members who made this identification a possibility."

This year is Herbert Mills' fourth as a STEM research and development school.

"We strive to build 21st-century soft skills that produce resilient students who are problem-solvers, collaborators and design thinkers," Coffey said.

School staff members guide students through creative exploration with a humanities and global impact emphasis within STEM units, Coffey said.

"I am most proud that we provide opportunities for our students to dream of what their future could look like and to have the curiosity to learn the skills and standards necessary to apply their knowledge to things they most want to do in life, well beyond their K-12 educational experiences," he said.

The process for STEM designation is a lengthy one, with each school required to submit letters of commitment from district partners such as TECH Corp. and the PAST Foundation.

"We also had to describe in detail our planning and implementation of innovative, relevant and challenging curricular lessons," Coffey said.

He said the school had several visits from members of the Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN).

The state approval committee included ODE officials, Battelle Institute personnel, state legislative members, OSLN officials and business leaders. They reviewed more than 30 schools last month.

Coffey said administrators from each school appeared personally before the designation committee for a final decision.

"Mills was the 10th school reviewed and the first to be approved without condition, and the first elementary school acknowledged with the state STEM designation," he said.

Drury said the state announced elementary schools could apply for STEM designation in December 2016. The deadline for those applications was the end of February.

"We had a short window in which to write our application and submit," she said. "The application included 10 questions that needed to be addressed within 20 pages and an appendix to include exhibits of your work."

Drury said the schools had to show how their STEM programs promote innovation and economic progress and how the staff incorporates inquiry and technological design, arts and humanities, while emphasizing personalized learning and collaboration.

"It was doubly exciting to be at ODE and hear both Mills and Summit obtain STEM designation as the first two elementary schools in Ohio," she said.

"It was a proud moment."

Drury said the award made her proud of the work being done every day at Summit Road.

"It reaffirms my belief that we are doing great things for kids in a unique environment," she said. "I have always felt very strongly that STEM is about quality instruction that allows children to take risks, solve authentic problems and use their 21st-century skills, which ultimately will set them up to be successful adults in any career they choose."

pwillis@thisweeknews.com

@PamelaThisWeek