Students Drive Creation of STEM Studios

Classroom Chronicles

By Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Rarely do you find high school students asking for tougher graduation requirements, but that is exactly what a group of students at Heritage High School in Blount County wanted.

In January 2010, teachers and students began to collaborate around the idea of specialty centers within the school, centers they coined STEM studios (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Their plan was to reorganize the structure of Heritage High, offering more options to students, and up the ante for students graduating from one of the STEM studios. All with the whopping budget of zero dollars.

A grass roots team of teachers and students worked after school during the week and met at coffee shops on Saturday mornings. They traveled to schools around the region searching for best practices and cost cutting models.

Colleen Mattison, the assistant principal at Heritage High School, was a member of the original team. She says as the idea grew it was the students who helped keep the vision on track.

“Students drove this program. They weren’t just pushing us; they were poking us with pitchforks. It is one thing when the state tells you to do something; it is another when students are driving the bus,” Mattison said.

The group developed a four-year plan for their first two STEM studios: health occupations and engineering.

Kendall Terry serves as the science department chair at Heritage High. Terry says these students built a framework that their friends and ultimately even some families would participate in.

“I just registered a student whose sibling was part of the original student team that helped develop the program,” Terry said.

After many weeks of discussion, the group presented their ideas to the Blount County School Board, pushing for a distinguished diploma for their STEM degree. Terry said the group wanted to create a degree that held weight in the eyes of students and the community.

“We wanted students who earned that endorsement to really have stepped up and done something,” Terry said.

Last year, 16 students graduated in the first STEM class from Heritage High. More than 20 seniors are up for the endorsement this school year, and nearly 100 students are involved in the program across grades.

There are currently four STEM studios at Heritage: agriculture science, scientific research, engineering, and health occupations. Mattison says a manufacturing studio is currently in development.

“We know this program is sustainable. We started with zero funding and have continued with zero funding,” Mattison said.

Teachers and students have used the momentum to create other schoolwide learning projects. Find out how students turned a 911 call into a learning experience.

The idea for this story came through a submission on the Classroom Chronicles contact page. We were thrilled to collaborate with Heritage High School to tell their story. Please submit yours.  


Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Ashley Ball manages content for Classroom Chronicles. She is a journalist turned educator.