River Ridge Academy opened its doors in August 2015 and now serves 1,200-plus students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in Bluffton, SC. River Ridge prides itself in its mission to meeting the needs of the whole child by being a Responsive Classroom school through addressing their social, emotional and academic needs. Safety, joy and challenge are the key tenets in which our educators strive to meet each day as they set foot in the classroom. We offer two popular school choices – Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and Montessori – that allow students to choose the instructional methods that fit their personal talents, interests and learning styles. Our STEM learning opportunities exist across all grade levels and school choice programs. River Ridge Academy is a one-to-one device school in which every student in grades K-8 has a personal technology device (iPad or Dell tablet) that they are interacting with on a daily basis for the purpose of research and mastery of content and skills. In addition, we are supported by more than 200 volunteers and business partners, as well as 100-plus dads who are involved in our “Watchdog” program.
In our elementary school (PK-4th grade), our PLTW students are exposed to the PLTW Launch curriculum. These students have thrived in a STEM rich learning environment focused on the engineering design process in which the students are completing modules on an ongoing basis. In addition, both our Montessori and PLTW elementary students are also exposed and highly enjoy attending their LEGO Robotics Lab class once per week. Inside this weekly class the students are actively engaged in a collaborative learning process that strongly supports STEM learning, problem solving and continuously helps encourage 21st century learning skills.
At our middle school level (5-8th grade) students are exposed to a more traditional curriculum in the core classes where educators continuously collaborate to build lessons that inspire student collaboration and inquiry based learning in a cross-curricular approach. One piece that is unique to River Ridge Academy, which separates us from most middle schools, is our requirement that all students are exposed to a minimum of one semester in our PLTW- Gateway to Technology sections during their encore classes annually. We also offer Media Arts and Google Basics (.5 high school credit) as encore classes to bolster our STEM learning opportunities for our students. In all classes, teachers provide a hands on approach for students to personalize their own learning through a collaborative approach which inspires a deeper understanding of content.
An area of ongoing development throughout the building is engaging our students in the engineering design process throughout lessons. Educators continue to receive professional development on lesson schema to support the design process as an effective instructional method in any content area. Students and teachers view the design process as a tool to think and learn without fear of failure.
Our teachers recognize the importance of students being STEM literate within all content areas to prepare them for a globally competitive future. Students are learning how to think in a logical and sequential manner, analyze text in words and numbers, see relationships, form questions from text, and develop hypothesis. Being STEM literate is also understanding global perspectives, point-of-view, and being able to read and understand primary and secondary sources. Through ongoing literacy support specific to the various disciplines, our students have demonstrated a degree of readiness for the next level.
River Ridge teachers support STEM education through daily collaboration during their common planning periods. Through the use of our district wide curriculum mapping of essential learning, along with following the scope and sequence of specific modules and units of study our teachers plan for integration across all content areas. Teachers implement opportunities in all lessons for students to engage with technology through various tools to promote mastery of content and demonstrate student learning through performance-based assignments and assessments. River Ridge teachers understand the value in creating collaborative STEM learning experiences that provide students the opportunity to think creatively and critically toward solving real world problems.
In summary, administrators and teachers at River Ridge Academy have designed an environment that supports the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students. Our school community is dedicated to providing a rigorous and relevant learning environment focused on STEM principles and processes that will guide students into a globally competitive future. We strive to fulfill our motto of, “Building a Better World, One Student at a Time.”
River Ridge Academy is focused on providing a rigorous curriculum that is STEM rich in content and resources for all of our students. Our greatest areas of strength lie within our STEM Learners (ST1.1-1.5). River Ridge Academy has set, and attained the goal that 100% of our students, K-8, will be exposed and involved in our STEM learning opportunities daily through their course work and specialized activities. We are proud of the commitment our teachers have made to ensure that all populations within our building are receiving a strong background in STEM based learning experiences. It is our mission to ensure that the goal of having 100% participation, that we set from day one, is maintained from year to year within our school.
Our curricula (ST1.6) requires students to problem solve, assess solutions, analyze their processes, and reevaluate solutions to attempt to create more effective and efficient solutions to their work than in their initial design. Examples of a few of these learning opportunities are at the middle school level, students are asked to construct a bridge to cover 40 cm in length using four pieces of 8.5” x 11” paper and three feet of tape with the ability to withstand the weight of as many pennies as possible. At the Kindergarten level students learn about the human body and the impact and treatment of a broken bone. They are then tasked with the effort of collaborating together to design a cast to help in the healing process of that injury.
Through our one-to-one device initiative (ST1.4) in which all students K-4 have a personal iPad and students 5-8, a Dell tablet, our students have frequent opportunities to personalize and self-direct their learning via their personal technological device(ST1.3). The device is their own for the school year to afford them access both while at school and at home. The devices support their ability to research and demonstrate their learning, but they also exhibit mastery of the STEM based curriculum through interactive journaling, video and web site creation, and exhibitions such as our annual STEM showcase. Finally, all of our STEM based learning is collaboratively researched, designed and delivered based off of our state and STEM specific curriculum standards which is mapped, scoped and sequenced in a manner to prepare our STEM learners to become college and career ready.
River Ridge Academy continues to focus its efforts in providing our educators ongoing professional development opportunities (ST1.7 & 1.9), through their common planning times, that focuses on the engineering design process. We continue to develop the strengths of our educators as we dig even deeper into the engineering design process as our method for teaching, learning and even planning lessons. We are eagerly awaiting our first year of student achievement data from statewide testing to help us identify areas of strength and areas of development(ST1.8). Through our seasonal district-wide benchmark assessments, along with student work samples, our educators regularly evaluate the instructional delivery practices to better suit our STEM learners needs. We also value the partnerships that we have been able to establish thus far through our first year, and we look forward to the partnerships that are in the developing stages (ST1.10-11) Through these partnerships, our STEM programs have received grants for materials, resources- such as the robotics VEX kits were purchased and funding for our robotics club’s competitions and community based learning experiences like the Plasma Expo and Boeing Plant site visit were provided.
Now at the beginning of year two we look forward to our continuance of providing an in-depth STEM learning experience to our students through our curricula and goal of maintaining 100% participation from all students. We will continue to fund our STEM programs and create a strategic master schedule that allows us to achieve our goal of providing these programs to all of our students annually. We are continuing to develop and grow our professional development opportunities for our staff and also look forward to maintaining our current business and parent partnerships and the development of even more fantastic partnerships with local businesses to support our STEM learners and educators.