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Full STEAM Ahead: How Fort Mill Schools Instills Engagement and Passion

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Sometimes being on top isn’t enough.

In 2017, Fort Mill School District in South Carolina became the top-rated district in the state, garnering national acclaim for its students’ academic achievements, and being named to The College Board’s AP District Honor Roll. But the district’s leaders knew they could reach even greater heights. The challenge was – how can they get there?

When it underwent its AdvancED accreditation in 2017, the district had every right to expect great results. So when officials got the accreditation report back, they were surprised to find one small note of discord: Student engagement, while satisfactory, was lower than administrators wanted.

“It was not where we wanted to be as compared to our normally high achievement results,” says Marty McGinn, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and human resources.

At the time, district officials were in the process of reexamining their curriculum, mostly to make sure students were college and career ready according to the state’s Profile of the Graduate.

When officials considered the engagement of their students, as well as the recognition that various schools were offering different STEM activities, only one choice addressed all these issues. The choice—to increase offerings in STEAM topics—was quickly agreed upon. STEAM refers to the basic STEM topics, science, technology, engineering, and math, with the arts included.

But even administrators couldn’t have guessed how well the changes would be accepted both inside and outside their classrooms. In just the first year of the district’s shift in focus, the effort has been well received by students, the school board, and especially teachers.

“We had a lot of STEAM activities going on here and there,” says McGinn of the district’s 16 schools. “But we’re a growing district, and we needed something that could bring everyone to the table.”


After mapping where district leaders knew they needed to be, they had to decide how to get there, which meant weighing the options for programs to implement and who could help them through this transition. In April 2017, the leaders hosted a strategic planning session.

To provide some guidance, Fort Mill’s leaders invited Cindy Moss, vice president of global STEM initiatives at Discovery Education, to speak with school and district leaders, along with students. Moss envisioned a classroom ecosystem where all teachers and students were immersed in STEM.

“Schools need to provide experiences that allow students to become ‘glocal,’” said Moss. “They should walk outside their school to find local problems and be able to see how their local problems fit into the global scheme of things. Adults should stop just dispensing knowledge and allow students to solve real-world problems.”

Chad Allen, the district’s STEM coordinator, said Moss’ passion filled the room with energy. It became the ignition for their STEAM engine.

“After she spoke, our students said, ‘We need our teachers to teach like that,’” said Allen. “We did not expect that strong of a reaction from our students, but they were immediately engaged.”


Fort Mill’s move to emphasize STEAM topics districtwide was initially complicated by the district’s tremendous growth. In just 15 years, the district, located in a town of 50 square miles, has grown from fewer than 6,000 students to more than 15,000. In that time, two new high schools were opened, and the district hired new teachers to compensate for the growth in student population.

Despite this growth spurt, these sudden changes haven’t had a negative impact on student achievement. Fort Mill remains the top-performing district in South Carolina, with a graduation rate of 94 percent—12 percentage points higher than the state average. Also, 85 percent of its graduates went on to a two- or four-year college, well above the state’s average rate of 71 percent.

But these changes did emphasize for district leaders the need for a unified curriculum, said McGinn. Redistricting has shuffled both students and teachers to different schools, so streamlining the curriculum made it easier for both groups to change addresses without losing ground.

“Our superintendent continues to say, ‘It doesn’t matter which school you go to in Fort Mill—they are all equally excellent,’” said McGinn.


In order to better formulate their goals, Fort Mill officials visited Santa Rosa County District Schools in Florida to see how it integrates STEAM activities into its everyday education.

In recent years, Santa Rosa has emerged as an international leader in STEAM education. Its students have continued to show promise after embarking in 2015 on a five-year strategic partnership with Discovery Education called STEAM Innovate!, where educators receive intensive professional learning and job-embedded coaching. Santa Rosa’s classrooms have become STEAM-infused learning environments, with lessons that nurture student achievement and critical 21st-century learning skills.

“We were struck by the common language and the common vision,” McGinn says. “Everybody moves in the same direction, from the district office to the classroom. It inspired us.”

Now, Fort Mill was moving with purpose toward a STEAM model, but still had some hills to climb. Leaders knew that they would need a strong professional development basis from which to launch into STEAM, but the district’s central office is slim.

“We believe in funding our schools, but we simply don’t have the capacity to do something like districtwide PD all by ourselves. So we had to find a great solution,” said Allen.


Fort Mill partnered with Discovery Education’s STEAM Leader Corps, a comprehensive program that helps scale digital and instructional leadership in school districts. Schools in Fort Mill were already using the company’s Science Techbook digital textbook, and it plans to expand into Discovery Education STEM Connect in the future.

The district’s partnership with Discovery Education has been powerful and unique, said Allen, adding that it was unlike any of his previous experiences with education service providers.

“Discovery Education’s people have been right alongside us every step of the way.

“They’ve invested themselves in the community, they talk to parents at PTO meetings, and they’re involved in planning and designing posters—it’s almost like they work for the district,” said Allen.

Through the Leader Corps, Fort Mill’s educators are being prepared for effective STEAM instruction and establishing a team of teacher leaders that will help drive systemwide change.

“Having a clear professional development structure for implementing STEAM is important to focus our efforts to achieve our goals,” said McGinn. “It also fosters communication and collaboration within and between our schools.”

Initially, the district sought volunteers to start, asking for eight teachers at its high schools and four at each middle and elementary school. McGinn wasn’t sure that many teachers would be interested, But the opposite proved true. More teachers applied than they could immediately use. While those not chosen were disappointed, the district has included them on trips to conferences and other schools to see STEAM activities in person to prime them for the future.

The training took a strategic approach, beginning with principals, says McGinn.

“Principal leadership is so vital. If the administration doesn’t understand what teachers need, such as time for planning and collaborating, it’s hard to support them,” she said.

Now, one year into the four-year STEAM Leader Corps program, teachers are beginning to showcase the effects of their training, said Allen.

He can tell teachers are embracing the new methods when he hears them discussing STEAM concepts in side conversations in the hallways. They’re also active on their own Twitter hashtag, #FM21STEAM where they regularly share their accomplishments.

“Some of those who came out of this process surprised us, and they’re surprising themselves,” he said. “These teachers are starting to demonstrate their skills as leaders. They’re stepping up and responding to the extra autonomy they’re being given.”

These teachers will lead model classrooms for others, organically growing the STEAM initiative internally throughout the district. And more leaders are being added each year.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting work,” McGinn said.


Teachers are learning how to create project-based learning lessons that meet the district’s standards, she says. Once teachers immerse themselves in using units from STEM Connect, they will better understand how to create their own interactive units.

In classrooms throughout the district, a combination of project-based learning and student-centered teaching can be seen in full practice. In place of stand-and-deliver instruction, students are empowered to be at the core of their classrooms, leading their own explorations in learning.

“We’ve seen the level of student engagement increase in our schools. They’re doing more rigorous work, and there is more creativity on display,” said Allen. “We had 400 people show up for one of our student-led district art shows recently. That was huge for them.”

Also emerging are STEAM-based lessons grounded in real-world issues. Springfield Middle School students embarked on a service-based learning exercise recently while studying what life is like for those living in refugee camps. To provide context for the lesson, they left the classroom behind and went outdoors.

They crossed a river, and using the limited materials they’d carried with them, built their own tents and spent some time in the wilderness.

They experienced a small taste of the life of those without homes of their own. Beyond the hands-on learning experience, it’s an exercise in communicating the power of compassion, said Allen.

“The definition of caring comes from understanding someone else’s perspective. When you design solutions, you’re trying to think of how people will experience that,” said Allen.

“I think giving kids a firsthand account of life experiences really helps them understand what it is they’re learning.”

Another major shift is on the teacher’s side of things. They’re encouraged to experiment with new ideas in the classroom and not be afraid of failure.

“If something goes bad, or fails, it’s okay. We’re giving them the freedom to explore. It’s allowed us to open our minds and be more intuitive about how we teach our kids,” said Allen.

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3M and Discovery Education Recognize 31 State Merit Winners in 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge

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SILVER SPRING, Md. & ST. PAUL, Minn. (Monday, June 27, 2022) – 3M and Discovery Education today announced 31 State Merit Winners in the 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge. As the nation’s premier middle school science competition for 15 years, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge features outstanding innovations from young scientists that utilize the power of STEM to improve the world. 

The 3M Young Scientist Challenge asks students in grades 5-8 to identify an everyday problem in their classroom, community, or the world and submit a one- to two-minute video communicating the science behind their solution. An esteemed and diverse group of judges, including 3M scientists and leaders in education from across the country, evaluated entries based on creativity, scientific knowledge, and communication effectiveness.  

“At 3M, we are committed to unlocking the power of our people, our science, and our ideas to reimagine what comes next. The ‘3M Young Scientist Challenge’ supports young innovators who have demonstrated that same passion to create what’s next and see their creative discoveries unfold and improve the world around us,” said Karina Chavez, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at 3M. “We are thrilled to welcome the latest generation of finalists and honorable mention recipients, and we are energized by a future that embraces STEM-for-all and what it can do for the world around us.”  

The 3M Young Scientist Challenge recognizes this year’s 31 State Merit Winners, selected for their passion for STEM, innovation, and superb communication skills. Each State Merit Winner receives special recognition on the challenge website and a one-of-a-kind technology prize pack.   

The 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge State Merit Winners are listed below in alphabetical order by state: 

[Alaska] Sara DeVolld, Connections Homeschool Program, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District 

[Arkansas] Sanjay Iyer, Forest Heights STEM Academy, Little Rock School District 

[Arizona] Iraj Shroff, BASIS Chandler Charter School, BASIS Charter Schools 

[California] Ryan Park, La Canada High School, La Canada Unified School District 

[Colorado] Vikram Raju, Aurora Quest K-8, Aurora Public Schools 

[Connecticut] Toshan Bhattacharya, Bethel Middle School, Bethel Public School District 

[Florida] Sharanya Natarajan, Edgewood Junior/Senior High School, Brevard Public Schools 

[Georgia] Katherine Webb, Renfroe Middle School, City Schools of Decatur 

[Iowa] Silas Erwin, Merrill Middle School, Des Moines Public Schools 

[Illinois] James Yu, Avery Coonley School  

[Indiana] Rohith Nuthakki, Creekside Middle School, Carmel Clay Schools 

[Kansas] Parker Welsh, Tonganoxie Middle School, Tonganoxie Public Schools – Unified School District No. 464 

[Louisiana] Maya Trutschl, Caddo Middle Magnet School, Caddo Public Schools 

[Massachusetts] Vivek Varanasi, Jonas Clarke Middle School, Lexington Public School District 

[Maryland] Shriyadita De, Takoma Park Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools 

[Minnesota] Shagun Shrivastava, Central Middle School, Independent School District 272 

[North Carolina] Viraj Shah, Carnage Middle School, Wake County Public School System 

[North Dakota] Lam Le, Oak Grove Lutheran School  

[Nevada] Luka Nguyen, Challenger School – Silverado 

[New Jersey] Sonia Leo, William Allen Middle School, Moorestown Township Public Schools  

[New York] Salamat Ibrahim, Capital Preparatory Bronx Charter School, New York City Community School District 12 

[Ohio] Kaavya Tatavarty, The Seven Hills School 

[Oklahoma] Nosrat Montaha, Owasso Eighth Grade Center, Owasso Public Schools 

[Oregon] Sahit Jayaweera, Tumwater Middle School, Beaverton School District 

[Pennsylvania] Elizabeth Gill, Reach Cyber Charter School, A Pennsylvania Connections Academy 

[Tennessee] Catherine Manley, West Valley Middle School, Knox County Schools 

[Texas] Varuni Saranu, Coppell Middle School – West, Coppell Independent School District 

[Virginia] Kriesh Tivare, Cooper Middle School, Fairfax County Public Schools 

[Washington] Aishwarya Agrawal, Odle Middle School, Bellevue School District 

[Wisconsin] Henry Martin, Golda Meir School, Milwaukee Public Schools 

[Wyoming] Asa Limmer, Centennial Junior High School, Natrona County School District Number 1 

To learn more about the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and meet this year’s finalists, visit

“We applaud the creativity and thoughtfulness of each of the 2022 State Merit Winners. Your leadership is an inspiration and you’re already changing the world for the better,” said Amy Nakamoto, general manager of social impact at Discovery Education.  

In its fifteenth year, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge continues to inspire and challenge middle school students to think creatively and apply the power of STEM to discovering real-world solutions. America’s Top Young Scientists have gone on to give TED Talks, file patents, found nonprofits, make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and exhibit at the White House Science Fair. These young innovators have also been named Time Magazine’s first Kid of the Year, featured in The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Business Insider, and on national television programs such as Good Morning America, CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and more. This year’s top 10 Young Scientist Challenge finalists and honorable mentions will be announced on June 28, 2022. The finalists will travel to 3M’s Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn., where they will participate in the final competition on October 17-18. 

The award-winning 3M Young Scientist Challenge supplements the 3M and Discovery Education program – Young Scientist Lab – which provides no-cost dynamic digital resources for students, teachers, and families to explore, transform, and innovate the world around them. Additional digital resources, content, and professional resources are available through 3M’s Science at Home series, an array of videos showcasing 3M scientists and guests performing simple, at home experiments for kids aged 6-12. All the resources are available within Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform and at 

For more information about Discovery Education’s award-winning digital resources and professional learning services, visit, and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through Twitter and LinkedIn.  


About 3M
3M (NYSE: MMM) believes science helps create a brighter world for everyone. By unlocking the power of people, ideas and science to reimagine what’s possible, our global team uniquely addresses the opportunities and challenges of our customers, communities, and planet. Learn how we’re working to improve lives and make what’s next at or on Twitter at @3M or @3MNews. 

About Discovery Education
Discovery Education is the worldwide edtech leader whose state-of-the-art digital platform supports learning wherever it takes place. Through its award-winning multimedia content, instructional supports, and innovative classroom tools, Discovery Education helps educators deliver equitable learning experiences engaging all students and supporting higher academic achievement on a global scale. Discovery Education serves approximately 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide, and its resources are accessed in over 100 countries and territories. Inspired by the global media company Discovery, Inc., Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and trusted organizations to empower teachers with leading edtech solutions that support the success of all learners. Explore the future of education at  

Robert Brittain

Grace Maliska
Discovery Education

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STEM Careers Coalition Named Best STEM Product by SmartBrief 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards

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Silver Spring, MD (Tuesday, June 14, 2022) – STEM Careers Coalition™ – the first-of-its-kind national STEM initiative powered by corporate and non-profit leaders and anchored in schools by Discovery Education – has been named a winner in the STEM and STEAM category of the 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards presented by SmartBrief.  

The Readers’ Choice Awards 2022 presented by SmartBrief on EdTech celebrates those companies and products making a lasting impact on the education industry. Submissions were evaluated by both industry professionals and end-users of SmartBrief. Through innovative solutions, the latest technology or pioneering problem-solving, SmartBrief recognizes those who are changing the education landscape for the better. SmartBrief is the leading digital news service for top-level education professionals in K-12, higher education, and specialized fields.  

The STEM Careers Coalition prepares 10 million students for the future of work by providing equitable access to digital content and experiences that engage students, build foundational STEM knowledge, and develop the critical skills students need for college and career success. Having reached over 5 million students by the second-year anniversary in 2021, the Coalition is nurturing a diverse culture of STEM education in K-12 schools and afterschool centers nationwide by empowering educators to teach STEM effectively in the classroom, fostering and promoting quality education, and building the next generation of STEM solution-seekers with intentional focus on racial and gender equity. No-cost and standards aligned resources introduce new experiences to further support middle and high school students’ career preparedness. STEM Careers Coalition Signature partners include Boeing, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble (P&G), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Caterpillar Foundation, Stanley Black & Decker, DuPont, and PepsiCo Foundation.  

The Discovery Education K-12 platform was also selected as an honorable mention in the Curriculum Development category. The Discovery Education K-12 learning platform connects educators to a vast collection of high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, intuitive quiz and activity creation tools, and professional learning resources. Providing educators an enhanced learning platform, the Discovery Education platform facilitates engaging, daily instruction in any learning environment.  

“On behalf of our critical corporate and community partners, the STEM Careers Coalition is  honored to receive this recognition from SmartBrief and educators,” said Amy Nakamoto, General Manager of Social Impact at Discovery Education. ”Our Coalition members are united in fostering inclusivity and equity in education through STEM opportunities. Together, we are supporting resources that resonate with educators and engage students to become the diverse solutions seekers of tomorrow.” 

Learn more about the SmartBrief Readers’ Choice Awards 2022 and the other winners at  

For more information about Discovery Education’s digital resources and professional learning services, visit, and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through Twitter and LinkedIn.  


About SmartBrief 
SmartBrief is the leading digital news service for top-level education professionals in K-12, higher education and specialized fields. Each SmartBrief is distributed for free and is specifically targeted to help administrators manage, teachers educate and students learn. We work closely with leading trade associations, professional organizations and corporations to create these news round-ups for their members and industries. 

About Discovery Education
Discovery Education is the worldwide edtech leader whose state-of-the-art digital platform supports learning wherever it takes place. Through its award-winning multimedia content, instructional supports, and innovative classroom tools, Discovery Education helps educators deliver equitable learning experiences engaging all students and supporting higher academic achievement on a global scale. Discovery Education serves approximately 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide, and its resources are accessed in over 100 countries and territories. Inspired by the global media company Discovery, Inc., Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and trusted organizations to empower teachers with leading edtech solutions that support the success of all learners. Explore the future of education at 

Grace Maliska
Discovery Education
Phone: 704-557-2444