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Martin Academy teacher heads to Costa Rica for STEM study program
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Courtney Carver, the STEM coordinator at Martin Technology Academy, watches along with Brian Jimenez, 9, Alex Magana, 10, Maxwell Dunham, 9, Taylor Dent, 11, and Angel Gonzales, 11, as Alex and Maxwell attempt to complete a challenge for Carver’s Lego robotics class Tuesday. The students are given a variety of challenges to complete with their robots throughout the school year. - photo by Erin O. Smith

A Hall County teacher will spend her summer exploring rain forests in Costa Rica while preparing a thorough science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.

Courtney Carver, the STEM coordinator and teacher at Martin Technology Academy, is the first and only Hall County teacher chosen for a STEM Immersion program in Costa Rica this summer.

The program is through the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, which partners with 10 teachers in Hall, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Fulton county schools.

“We’ve been working on our STEM certification here at Martin,” Carver said. “So we formed a partnership with the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center right in Buford. Every year, they send out an opportunity to schools they are partnered with for teachers to do a STEM Immersion week.”

The session is set for July 18-25 at the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica campus. Applications were sent out in January, and Carver learned she was accepted last week.

The program is an opportunity for teachers to get hands-on experience that can inspire their STEM lessons.

“Each day we will do something different,” Carver said. “One of the days is a rain forest hike to learn about the animals and life cycle there. Then one day we’re going to a coffee plantation and learning about farming. And then another day we’ll take cooking lessons at a local residence hall.”

Each evening, Carver said the teachers will get together to write lesson plans or units of study to implement all they see and learn in the classroom.

“That’s what I’m most excited about,” she said. “Just getting to pick the brains of teachers that are not Hall County teachers. Some other counties are a little further ahead and have countywide STEM initiatives. ... It’s going to be exciting, I think.”

As Martin’s technology teacher, Carver spends much of her day teaching a technology class for second- through fifth-graders and upholding the school’s technology standards. She also acts as STEM coordinator and teaches a Lego Robotics elective for a class of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

But, as the school’s STEM director, Carver will help the entire science, technology, engineering and math curriculum benefit from her trip to Costa Rica.

The school received a visit from the state last spring, a step in the process of STEM certification. School officials were told they needed more partnerships, like the one with the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, to receive certification.

“The parts we were missing were partnerships, teachers being endorsed for science and math and having integrated curriculum,” Carver said. “Of course we teach math and science, but really purposefully mixing them all together and creating those real-world connections for the kids.”

The school now has committees dedicated to creating partnerships and endorsements, and Carver’s summer program will help with integrated curriculum and real-world connections.

“That’s what is going to directly impact our students when I come back,” she said. “It’s having curriculum written and ready to give my teachers that they can use. It’s not just to Costa Rica, but to the farming community, the economy and things like that.”