Brocton Central School wins national STEM award

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Over 100 hands shot into the air when Anthony Betrus of SUNY Potsdam asked how many Brocton students advanced a full grade level in math or reading this year.

BROCTON — One full grade level: that’s how much Brocton Central School students have advanced in reading and/or math this year, thanks to the district’s participation in the National Education Foundation’s Total STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) System Solution program.

According to NEF founder and chairman Dr. Appu Kuttan, it takes 25 to 35 learning hours for students to advance a grade level in math or science, and Brocton students accomplished this feat in approximately 27 hours.

While this is an accomplishment in and of itself, Kuttan was excited to congratulate Brocton Superintendent Jason Delcamp on yet another achievement at the school-wide assembly. Brocton Central School showed the largest growth of all NEF STEM schools in the nation and was awarded the prestigious STEM Academy of the Year award.

Delcamp, along with kindergarten teacher Jodi Huber, Brocton’s STEM Academy director, began working with Kuttan and NEF approximately four years ago. The superintendent explained that he was contacted by Kuttan, as the school district met the demographics of a rural community that could benefit from a partnership with the NEF, which gives priority to districts with 35% or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch.

Delcamp learned about NEF’s Total STEM System Solution (TSSS) program, which helps teachers and students set and achieve goals with incentivized rewards that produce significant and surprising results. “Being a career and technical education teacher and auto mechanic, the fact is, I work with my hands, and that’s how I learn,” Delcamp said during the assembly. “Dr. Kuttan shared that vision: how can we bring that to Brocton?”

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Brocton Elementary students shared their experience with STEM Academy at Friday’s assembly, where the district was presented with a national award and a $5,000 check to honor students’ achievements. Pictured from left to right are Dr. Appu Kuttan, NEF founder and chairman, Colie Bundy, Lillian Zappie, Lauren Jagoda and Jodi Hubor, STEM Academy director and kindergarten teacher.

Though initially skeptical, Delcamp began learning more about NEF’s STEM Academy and reached out to Warren County School district, the closest participant to Brocton. Brocton would be the first district in New York state to implement the program, which they did with grades four through six during the late fall of last year. Soon, grades two and three joined the program, which receives state-supported BOCES aid and NEF’s 80% grant.

Delcamp thanked the teachers in grades two through six for their support, and Huber for her enthusiasm and leadership. “I’d also like to thank the board of education for their support, and our district residents, who passed our capital project last year,” he said. “Now our elementary school is going to get a science lab. Our middle/high school is going to get a technology lab.”

During the assembly, Delcamp addressed the middle/high school students and explained that next year, the STEM Academy is expanding to include them. SUNY Potsdam has partnered with the NEF to implement the program in New York state; through this partnership, Brocton students can participate in career technology and engineering programs at the middle/high school level with the opportunity to earn SUNY credits at a discount of up to 90%.

Kuttan explained that TSSS involves four modules that prepare students for college and STEM careers. The first module, academics, focuses on individualized learning that allows students to learn at their own pace. Students are rewarded with incentives, including bronze, silver and gold medals for each third of a grade level they advance, and entries for prize drawings.

“Incentives and motivation are so important,” Kuttan explained. “I found that in the tennis academy.” Indeed, Kuttan owned the largest tennis academy in the world, Florida’s Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, that produced several world champions in 30 years, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. “When I sold the academy, I decided that I was going to give all my money to the NEF because I believe quality education is a basic human right,” he told the OBSERVER.

Kuttan, who lives in Washington, D.C., is the developer of Management By Systems and Cyberlearning and has written several best-selling books. He has served as an advisor to several national leaders including former President Bill Clinton, India Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the president of Venezuela, the Mauritius prime minister and many others. His mission is “to bridge the STEM divide by providing world-class STEM education to one million K-12 students annually with 80 to 100% grants.”

Other modules of TSSS involve hands-on learning through robotics and computer science. The third module, CTE (career and technical education) prepares students with certifications in IT, business, health science and engineering. The fourth module involves E-Sports, a STEM design contest created by SUNY that involves using Minecraft/CADE design software.

Importantly, the results are astonishing, almost “too good to be true,” in Delcamp’s words. Huber invited several elementary students to share their experiences at Friday’s assembly. Elementary student Lillian Zappie completed the entire reading program at a ninth grade level: “Two years ago, when I started my first 20-minute session with Success Maker, I was seriously doubting the program,” she said. Figuring the program would involve standard reading passages, followed by multiple choice or short answer questions, Zappie was a skeptic. “After just one session, my mind completely changed…it was full of not passages, but stories: funny, sad, happy, interesting stories. In the math version, I could see just how much I know, which was a lot more than I thought. Success Maker is not something we have to be forced to do; it’s something we enjoy doing. I have so much pride watching my little brother, Anthony, growing and learning under Success Maker, too.”

Several local representatives attended the assembly, as well as Katrina Fuller, representing Congressman Tom Reed, who extended his congratulations to Brocton. Mark Odell, Chautauqua County Legislator for District 7, was pleased to congratulate the district. “Jason Delcamp and Jodi Huber, as humble as I know you both are, should be very, very proud of this distinguished achievement,” he said. “In my public capacity as chairman of the economic development committee, one key thing I’ve learned…is that this county has a multitude of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs right here, particularly in the skilled trades and STEM fields, which we’re fostering here today.”

Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello thanked Kuttan, Delcamp and Huber for their outstanding work and collaboration. “This is about changing the way we look at things in Chautauqua County, starting right here at Brocton Central School,” he said. “Setting goals and achieving them: that’s what success is all about…Your future starts now, and this program is really evidence of that.”

Kuttan, too, was excited to congratulate the students and share his three tenets for success: 1) Have Fun, 2) Set Goals and 3) Be Happy. “Happiness begins with nurturing your mind, your body and your soul,” he explained. “I believe that if people at a young age start nurturing their mind by thinking creatively, managing stress and taking care of their bodies, and practicing compassion, their lives will improve significantly.” He concluded his talk and the assembly by inviting students to join him in some physical fun: a rigorous round of cardio salsa in which the breathless students struggled to keep up with their 77-year-old mentor, who clearly practices what he preaches.


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