The Marietta Center for Advanced Academics, off Aviation Road north of South Marietta Parkway, was presented with both the Georgia School of Excellence and National Blue Ribbon awards.
Focused on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), MCAA provides third-through fifth-graders with an advanced academic experience.
“You are the best of the best,” said Chief Academic Officer for Georgia Department of Education Mike Buck.
Eight Georgia public schools were named 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education, including two Cobb County public schools, Tritt Elementary in east Cobb and Fair Oaks Elementary, as well as a private school, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School in Kennesaw.
The recognition is for principals, teachers and students who have achieved high levels on state and national assessments in both reading and mathematics, or have students from disadvantaged backgrounds showing improvement.
Principal Jennifer Hernandez said MCAA teachers have to constantly keep learning professionally to meet the demands of the high-performance school, which opened in 2005 and has 321 students enrolled this year.
“They have to be on the forefront,” Hernandez said.
Past the colorfully painted murals and classroom projects lining the hallways, the crowd of MCAA students was seated on the floor of the school gymnasium Friday morning.
Led by Buck, the kids cheered for their accomplishments; their high-pitched yells of “We’re number one” echoed from the walls.
Students applying to MCAA must have a 3.0 GPA on their most recent report card and standardized test scores in the above 75 percentile in both reading and mathematics. The 3.0 GPA must be maintained while enrolled.
Hernandez said the majority of students at MCAA are minorities, 40 percent are on free or reduced lunches, and there are an equal amount of boys and girls enrolled.
“Our school’s population mirrors that of the Marietta City School system,” Hernandez said.
A classroom lesson
Amber Harris, the mother of third-grader Sarah Kate Harris, 8, said parents of children enrolled at MCAA are told the curriculum will be more work than what students experience at other schools.
“They teach them to rise to the level,” said Harris, who described the method as efficient learning.
So far, Harris said she has been impressed with the technology and computer training, which has the students creating spreadsheets, producing videos and using mobile applications.
“She is teaching us things,” Harris said.
Lisa Novak’s daughter, Elizabeth Pierson, 8, is in the same class as Sarah Kate.
Novak said her daughter is enthusiastic about studying when she gets home from school.
“Something about the curriculum has spawned her to do more each night,” Novak said.
The lead fifth-grade teacher, Kara Householder, who has been a teacher for 12 years, said MCAA is focused on hands-on learning and critical thinking.
No textbooks in ‘wireless learning environment’
Householder said the students do not use textbooks, but focus on lab assignments with summaries or reflection papers written about the experience.
These papers are posted to an online forum by the students using iPads. At MCAA, all students are provided laptop computers that are used in the wireless learning environment.
When asked if the high standards and peer review is too much pressure for kids under the age of 11, Householder said, “I think these kids by nature are inquisitive.”
Householder said her students are motived by being active and would be bored sitting at a desk filling out paperwork. Even math is taught through activities that relate how numbers are used in an engineering environment, not just as computations.
“They are vested in what they are doing,” Householder said.
Sydney Reed, 10, who is in Householder’s class and is in her second year at MCAA, said she was bored at her previous school.
MCAA “fits” her perfectly, Reed said, and she is excited to come to school every day.
Reed wants to be a veterinarian, so dissecting an owl pellet was the highlight of her science class. Reed said she also enjoyed the lessons on simple machines, which demonstrated how pulleys and wedges work.
But, Reed’s biggest lesson has been realizing that there are other kids with a desire to learn science and math, she said.
“At my last school they kind of made fun of me for liking school,” Reed said.