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Vestavia Hills City Schools to debut new STEM classes next year

May 8, 2024 — Every elementary student in Vestavia Hills City Schools will take part in a new, weekly STEM class beginning next school year. 

State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Dan Roberts, Representatives Jim Carns and Mike Shaw, the Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation, all five Vestavia Hills elementary PTOs, Lathan Architects, Schneider Electric, and Shipt have combined to donate more than half a million dollars to fund the elementary STEM program. Their funding will be used to purchase supplies, materials, classroom furniture, and professional development for the startup of the STEM classes. The VHCS Foundation also committed funds to support the addition of new health science and engineering courses for students at Vestavia Hills High School. 

With funding secured, the Vestavia Hills Board of Education in its April 29 meeting approved the hiring of five elementary STEM teachers: Billie Jean Price at Vestavia Hills Elementary East, Noelle Bradshaw at Vestavia Hills Elementary West, Katie McDaniel at Vestavia Hills Elementary Dolly Ridge, Heidi Burgess at Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights, and Martha Martin at Vestavia Hills Elementary Liberty Park.

The new classes are the result of a four-year vision to enhance instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics throughout Vestavia Hills City Schools. 

The school system piloted an elementary STEM class at Vestavia Hills Elementary Liberty Park from 2021 to 2023. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade took part in the class each week, led by a STEM teacher who provided grade-level instruction in the engineering design process. The class was discontinued at the end of the 2022-23 school year after Vestavia Hills voters rejected a tax increase to fund system-wide expansion of the STEM program along with other academic and facility improvements.

Data obtained after the end of the pilot program in 2023 showed strong community support for the creation of elementary STEM classes. In post-election polling data, more than 80 percent of Vestavia Hills residents who supported the May 2023 tax referendum indicated that elementary STEM classes were among their top priorities for the school system’s academic programming. 

Survey data from Vestavia Hills Elementary Liberty Park faculty in the spring of 2024 also reflected continuing support for the STEM class. More than 95 percent of VHELP teachers said that they saw improvements in students’ problem-solving skills, collaboration, and creativity as a result of the STEM class. VHELP teachers surveyed also said that the STEM class enhanced their own understanding of STEM concepts and influenced their teaching practices in non-STEM subjects. 

The school system is continuing to seek partners to contribute to the sustainability of the elementary STEM program. Businesses, organizations, and individuals interested in sponsoring the program may contact the Board of Education for more information.