UPDATE: STEM School starts to bloom - WSMV Channel 4

STEM School starts to bloom in Hamilton County

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STEM School students STEM School students
Packed house at Monday's STEM School Dedication Packed house at Monday's STEM School Dedication
Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey with $100,000 check from Area 203 Digital Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey with $100,000 check from Area 203 Digital
School Board Chair Mike Evatt, County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Supt. Rick Smith School Board Chair Mike Evatt, County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Supt. Rick Smith
Dignitaries and students cut the ribbon at the STEM School Dignitaries and students cut the ribbon at the STEM School

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- East Ridge's next veterinarian or architect, Bailey Crittenden, might never have had a class with Red Bank's next lawyer, Dajanae Williams, or very many of the other 73 freshmen in their inaugural class, were it not for the method by which they were chosen for Hamilton County's new STEM (Science-Technology-English-Math) High School.

They're here by luck of the draw.

"Our kids were chosen completely through lottery," English teacher Allison Fuller-Mulloy says. "From students who have struggled in school, to students who traditionally have done really well."

All bear the torch, the burden, or in their cases, the free Ipads, for proving to scuttling theories about how to close the "skill gap" between job opportunities and the training to prepare for them.

"It's gonna require teachers who think and act differently," former Hamilton County Mayor-turned Tennessee Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey tells a crowd gathered at the STEM campus at Chattanooga State Community College Monday. "It's gonna require hands-on teaching."

For the students themselves, "hands on" offers more freedom, and responsibility to learn at their own pace.

"This school really pushes us to better ourselves," Williams says.

"When they assign you something, it's your job. You have to take care of it," Crittenden adds.

"We're pretty much college students right now," Williams answers.

"You can't rely on your teacher to tell you what you're gonna do," Crittenden says. "You have to know what you're gonna do."

STEM also is a lesson in time management.

"It can be hard to focus, because we have an hour bus ride here and back," Crittenden says. "So we only get a small amount of time to work."

The school day runs 9:30AM - 4:30PM.

"That extra hour of sleep, with this age group, can make all the difference," Fuller-Mulloy says.

STEM's campus is a hub more than a home.

"This isn't the place where it all happens," Ramsey says. "This is where it starts."

Two dozen teachers serve as STEM Fellows. They remain based in their respective high schools and districts outside Hamilton County. But they're adapting STEM instructional techniques to their own classrooms.

Growing the pie' is one aspect that attracted Area203, a digital advertising and marketing company to invest in the STEM concept.

Its $100,000 donation is more than 'feel-good giving.' It's seeding the talent pool.

"This year, right here in Chattanooga, are adding more than 70 new marketing, creative, technology and analytical positions," Area203 CEO Doug Freeman says. "We're finding our professional staff right here."

More than matching opportunities to skill sets, STEM also could slow the 'brain drain' that sends some of the Volunteer State's best and brightest elsewhere to flourish.

Williams is a prime example.

"I want to get my law degree at Columbia (in New York City)," she says. "But I really like the Chattanooga area. I wouldn't cry if I had to stay here."

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