STEM receives charter

By Joseph Pratt

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Portsmouth STEM Academy has been providing personalized learning plans for students since fall of last year, growing from a student population of 21 to 48 since then. They’ve also grown in many other ways, from increased staff to the acquisition of its state charter.

The charter came into effect Sept. 30 of this year and the school is patiently awaiting to receive its letter in the mail.

“This charter means that we are an accredited institution that is following the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) standards in its curriculum,” Principal Megan Warnock said. “We know what it means to us, but what does it mean to everybody else? When you look into the current charter school situation in Ohio, people see words like public school and public funding, which isn’t what we are.”

The controversy of Ohio charter schools comes from misspent public dollars that some schools are given.

Warnock explained that the situation doesn’t involve her school that much, however.

According to Warnock, STEM is a private non-profit, not a public school, and doesn’t receive public dollars. Despite being a private institution, Warnock said that they are very open about spending and anyone can request a layout of their funds and the school will show exactly where its money goes.

“We don’t really like the term charter school. To us, the charter pretty much means we are in compliance with exactly what ODE says,” Warnock explained. “With any new institution, especially a private school, there is skepticism. We get that; but we hope getting chartered will show people just how serious we are about longevity and giving these kids the best futures possible.”

Warnock said that there are some charter benefits for students, however, especially those who come from families who need extra help.

The charter status gives the school the ability to bus students, it gives students the ability to participate in College Credit Plus, and it also opens grant opportunities for students, which has already been taken advantage of.

Now that the charter has been awarded, and the school is no longer spending time seeking it out, the ongoing focus will be to establish a high school program, as well as planning on further development.

Development meetings are being planned for the coming weeks, in which the school will be looking at possible directions.

“We have grown so much over the past year,” Warnock said. “I don’t think I realized how much we would be expanding. It is a continual, exponential motion of growth. We are even hiring a new teacher and breaking classes down further this year. I firmly believe that we will be outgoing our space soon.”

Warnock said she believes word of mouth has assisted in getting more students enrolled.

While it is possible to show overall growth of the institution on paper and through documentation, the growth of the individual student is also something monumental that has been noticed by teachers and parents.

“We are witnessing so many changes in the students. They are so happy to be in school,” Warnock explained. “They are growing so much and are showing behavioral and attitude changes, as well as academic changes; it is so rewarding to be a part of it all.”

STEM embraces each student in different ways. The school also takes time to remind students that not everyone learns the same way and people react different to various subjects. The teachers push individuality and creativity, allowing students more freedom than traditional school environments. Warnock explained that she believes their methods of allowing students to be themselves play a role in higher scores, better learning, and increased social skills.

Students are also given the opportunity to express themselves through art, music, language, circus arts, and more.

“Some people see that we are a STEM school and think we only teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Warnock explained. “Having a charter shows that we have a fair balance of all subject material. You need English for science and other subjects. All subjects are taught, but they are structured in a way that allows them to work together, especially in a STEM setting.”

Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.

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Submitted Photo STEM students learning artistic practices at the Southern Ohio Museum, as they sketch the friendly horse Grandma’s Prayer. Photo STEM students learning artistic practices at the Southern Ohio Museum, as they sketch the friendly horse Grandma’s Prayer.