It’s a banner year for the Charter Conservatory for the Liberal Arts and Sciences (CCAT). The 2016-2017 school year marks the 15th anniversary of the school’s founding. That’s reason enough to celebrate, but you can add to that the recent granting of a five-year charter by the current Georgia Charter Schools Commission. For the first time since 2012, CCAT has been given an extended vote of confidence in its administration and in the performance of its students.
CCAT began as a public charter school in 2002 led by the late Dr. Kathy Harwood. Over the years it has grown to serve 160 students, in grades 6 – 12. Originally, the school included elementary grades, but focusing on students in upper grades proved to be a more effective mission.
In 2006, Corliss Reese joined the faculty as a teacher. A native of Thomson, Georgia, Reese attended Georgia Southern and has been a volunteer recreation department coach for football, baseball, and basketball teams for nine years. From 2001 – 2006 he headed the Statesboro Storm Travel Team, a baseball team for youth ages 8 – 15 years.
This year marks Reese’s tenth anniversary with the school. In 2012, after Dr. Harwood retired, he was chosen to be the next director by the school’s board. Under Reese’s leadership for the last three years, CCAT has improved student test scores, retention rates, and graduation rates. He believes adapting the STEAM model will only benefit CCAT in the future.
What will the new charter mean for the school? “We’ll be enhancing our educational programs by becoming a STEAM school,” Reese stated. “STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. We’ll be engaged in incorporating those areas in all the subjects we teach.”
Under the new charter, the school will undergo a name change to Statesboro STEAM College, Careers, Arts and Technology Academy. A student contest was help to name a new mascot for the school, and the CCAT cheetah will be replaced with a dragon. A new logo has already been created showing the changes.
What exactly is STEAM? It’s an “educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. The end results are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem- solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process.”
Other key points of the STEAM education process include:
• Steam is an integrated approach to learning which requires an intentional connection between standards, assessments and lesson design/implementation.
• True STEAM experiences involve two or more standards from Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and the Arts to be taught and accessed in and through each other.
• Inquiry, collaboration, and an emphasis on proceed-based learning are at the heart of the STEAM approach.
• Utilizing leveraging the integrity of the arts themselves is essential to an authentic STEAM initiative.
The difference between STEM and STEAM is clearly the Arts. Studies show that the integration of the Arts in curricula help students to excel in all areas of academia. There is evidence that the incorporation of the Arts reduces dropout rates, raises student attendance, develops better team players, and fosters a love of learning. Students who participate in the Arts develop fine motor skills, are more creative thinkers, and have improved emotional balance.
Being a STEAM school means CCAT will offer a rotation model of blended learning programs in which students will receive part of their education in online learning. Students will have an element of control over time, place, path, and the pace in which they proceed. Another share of their learning experience will occur through teacher-led instruction, while a third component will include collaborative activities at stations where hands on activities can occur.
“The blended learning approach will give the students more than one way to approach the subject matter,” stated Reese. “The goal is to create a naturally interdisciplinary differentiated learning environment that will one day evolve into one that will be transdisciplinary.” Which means subjects will no longer be taught separately, but teachers will collaborate with administrators on developing a curriculum that includes overlapping subjects.
What are some of the benefits of being a charter school? “There is a greater freedom in the approach to educating children and teachers have more autonomy in the classroom,” stated Reese. “We have the same tests as regular public school and must show improved performance as well.” According to Reese, CCAT is a little bit above Bulloch County in student growth with a higher graduation rate of 88.2%.
At the Charter school, students will be able to choose career paths as early as sixth grade, with flexibility from sixth to eight grades. By high school, Reese believes that students will have found their paths and will stick with them through post-secondary education. There will be an accelerated program for some students above their grade level.
“The new integrated learning of multiple disciplines within one class will reinforce content knowledge, and be a more rigorous, more challenging for students,” stated Reese. “But, it will also be a more comprehensive way to learn.”
The Charter school operates on a schedule that differs from the Bulloch County Board of Education, beginning the school year in mid-July and ending in late May. There are two-week breaks after each semester and holiday breaks.
The school day starts with a “Morning Mingle” session where announcements are made and students are being motivated by music and a DJ to get ready to learn. At 8:00 a.m. classes begin. Academics are taught in the morning before lunchtime and electives are after lunch. Students brown bag or order lunch and have it delivered. In the afternoon electives such as Chess, physical education, art, drama, journalism, Spanish and Model U.N. are offered.
Last year a middle school basketball team was started. Reese hopes to grow the sports program to include a high school basketball team and this year is planning to join the Georgia High School Association (GHSA).
Reese and the advisory board are also looking for a location to expand the facilities. There is a waiting list of applicants each school year.
This summer, Reese will be overseeing the training of teachers, the renovation of CCAT’s interior, and preparations for the brand new school year.
“We’re excited about the new opportunities for partnerships our programming will afford,” said Reese. “We’re encouraged by meetings with the Board of Education and are forming partnerships with non-profits such as the Averitt Center for the Arts to enhance our programs. There is a working buzz around the building that is contagious. I can’t wait for the school year to begin. Our new charter gives us five years to excel. I can’t wait to see where we’ll be in 2021.”