New STEM school puts modern twist on one-room schoolhouse

A 21st century spin on the one-room schoolhouse has made its way to DeKalb County. The 21st Century STEM Academy (21C) opened its doors in August for the 2017 -2018 school year.

Built on the concept of “micro-schools,” the school is designed to provide a more personalized learning experience, according to its co-founder, Glenn Delk. Delk founded 21C along with Gareth Genner when the two decided that children in traditional school settings aren’t given all the tools they need to explore the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, Delk said.

“Given all the technology, the automation, the possibility of artificial intelligence eating a number of jobs, we wanted to offer this as an approach,” Delk said.

21C occupies a former office building at 1549 Clairmont Road in Decatur across from Emory University. It has an open floor plan with little to no separation between class areas. Students sit at tables when working collaboratively, or couches and chairs in a lounge area when they want or need to work independently.

The school is equipped with a fully-functional flight simulator and two 3-D printers, allowing students to do a variety of high level, STEM-focused projects, school officials said.

According to Delk, 21C serves around 45 students grades K-10 for its first year, with hopes that it will expand to between 150-200 students in the coming years.

“We set this up intentionally as a private micro-school because we’re trying to prove that it’s sustainable on 150-200 students without accepting philanthropic money,” Delk said.

Delk said he and Genner developed the academy with the help of ideas from Larry Rosenstock. In 1996, Rosenstock—along with 40 members of San Diego’s civic and high-tech industries—began development on a STEM-focused charter school that opened in 2000 as High Tech High (HTH). The school has served about 200 students in 9th and 10th grades. Since then, HTH has developed into a network of 13 charter schools serving 5,300 students.

Rather than using standardized testing as a measure of success, Delk said Rosenstock bases his success on college graduation rates of his students, which as of 2015 was about 88 percent according to the Education Writer’s Association.

“When Atlanta is competing to bring in major technology companies like Amazon, the inadequacies in the education system is one of the major drawbacks,” Delk said.

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