STEM Scholars Prep Academy

STEM Scholars Prep Academy


Watch this short video from UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Now” program,
which profiled the students participating in the STEM Scholars
Academy activities at Neal STEM Magnet Middle School.

The STEM Scholars Prep Academy is designed to identify talented underserved and low-income middle school students, beginning with 6th graders, and advocate for their placement in advanced science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. A special emphasis will be placed on enrolling and supporting minority males in advanced STEM courses. Students will be provided with tutors and mentors to ensure their success through a series of collaborative relationships to be developed within the school, the school community, the N.C. School of Math and Science, and other community organizations.

The STEM Scholars Prep Academy has been supported through donations and grants. Through working partnerships, we can change the odds for some of the most underserved but academically capable students in our communities. The expected outcome is to demonstrate that every participating student can succeed and be prepared for high school, college and beyond. These positive influences are necessary to guide them through the challenges of school and open a world of opportunities previously not thought possible.

2014 – 2015 YEAR-END REPORT:

The Institute completed its second year of implementing the STEM Scholars Academy in three Durham Public Schools —two middle schools (Lowes Grove STEM Magnet and Neal STEM Magnet) and a Leadership Scholars Initiative in one high school (Northern), focused on placing low-income high potential students in rigorous mathematics and language arts courses to enhance their academic performance and success in school. The total number of students enrolled during the school year 2014-2015 was 131, with each school program enrolling a diverse group of children.

Lowes Grove STEM Magnet Middle School

The Lowes Grove Academy population consisted of a mix of 30 ethnically and gender diverse 7th grade students, along with 15 high-performing 8th grade students. The 8th grade students served as peer tutors to help struggling 7th grade students keep pace with the whole class. Based on end-of-grade scores, all of our students performed at or above grade level in both mathematics and language arts (reading, writing and speaking). Their course grades also increased across the board, especially among black males, with 91 percent of Lowe’s Grove black male Scholars earning a B or higher in mathematics, and 100 percent earning grades of B or better in language arts.

As a result of this pilot initiative, the Lowe’s Grove school leadership was considering expanding the peer tutor concept throughout the school for 2015-2016. If this were to occur during the 2015-2016 school year, one of our major goals — influencing the school attitude towards offering special help to struggling low income students who have the potential to succeed academically — will have been met.

Mrs. Jennifer Duvall, the teacher coordinator (selected by the school) of the STEM Scholars Academy program, introduced the students to coding and the creation of technology applications, taught by Barbara Walters, a volunteer tutor from SAS Institute.  Mrs. Walters instructed the classes on how to input code using App Inventor software and how to create a few basic applications of their own that were accessible on the students’ digital devices.

STEM Academy from Jenny Duvall on Vimeo.


The students used the website to raise $806 to purchase four Android tablets, allowing them to see their creations come alive.  Mrs. Duvall used the tablets to build depth of student knowledge and allow them to apply their learning to real world applications.

The students participated in an essay writing competition that focused on writing about their dreams for the future, as well as describing how their present environment impacts their lives. All students received certificates of recognition; students who wrote the five best essays were given $50 gift certificates.

Each student’s essay was published in a book with picture and byline.

Neal STEM Magnet Middle School

The Institute established a second STEM Scholars Academy for the 2014-2015 school year at Neal STEM Magnet Middle School, which is designated as one of the lowest performing schools in Durham, receiving an overall grade of “F” from the State of North Carolina for 2014-2015.

At Neal, black male students are the lowest performing group, so the Institute decided to work with the principal to enroll 30 black 7th grade male students in the Academy. Students were selected based on test scores, which identified those with a high potential of succeeding in more rigorous courses, if provided with tutorial support.

To support the tutorial needs of students enrolled in the Academy, nine high-performing male and female 8th grade students were recruited as peer mentor/tutors and were assigned to work with two Scholars each. At the end of the first year, 85 percent of young men in the STEM Scholars Academy earned a C or better in mathematics, and 84 percent earned a C or better in language arts. The majority of these students had been heading toward failure the year before. The peer tutors were allowed to participate in several STEM Scholars initiatives as a reward for tutoring the students.

The teacher coordinator, Mrs Ursela Jones, a finalist for Durham teacher of the year, provided the students with a variety of extensive “project-based learning” initiatives during a special designated period each day. These focused on helping students use math and science applications in real life experiences.

In April, 2015, STEM Scholars attended a nature hike at Durant Nature Park, during which they identified the major parts of trees (lateral roots, etc.), tested pH levels of soil to determine if trees could grow in it, and completed an exercise to understand how trees compete for water and sunlight. These lessons were designed by the City of Raleigh park staff members specifically for the students from the STEM Scholars Academy and will be made available for use by other schools in the future.

The STEM Academy students and their 8th grade mentors/tutors participated in the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) 2015 Bridge Competition, which features teams of students designing and building model bridges. The bridges are tested by NCDOT engineers. The competition took place over two weekends, and the Academy students placed first in their district and 4th in the state-wide competition. They were presented with certificates of achievement and a $200 cash award. For many of these boys, this was their first success in academics.


 The Institute and the partner schools made special efforts to enhance parent involvement, because we believe that in order for our Scholars to be successful, it is essential for parents to be actively involved in the educational lives of their children. Therefore, the Institute worked with our partner schools to design systems to provide easy access to information by the parents. We created an online parent portal, which used a smartphone application called Remind to communicate with parents. We chose the smartphone as an alternative method to connect with parents because many of the homes do not have computers or internet.

However, face-to-face meetings proved to be the most successful form of communication. Lowe’s Grove held four face-to-face parent meetings, with all parents attending at least one meeting and over 50 percent attending all meetings. Neal held nine parent meetings, with 90 percent attending at least four meetings and over 50 percent attending all meetings.

Since the meetings were scheduled at 6 p.m., the Institute provided pizza and beverages to encourage attendance by the students and their parents/guardians. At each meeting, parents/guardians were provided updates on their children’s success and were given a personalized one-page written document profiling their child’s progress. The principals at both schools have expressed an interest in using the system school-wide.


The Institute was invited by Principal Matthew Hunt to collaborate during the 2014-15 school year to enhance an initiative he organized called Young Men of Progress. A selected group of 60 black males in the program (grades 9 through 12) were placed in college-track courses and provide mentoring and tutorial support to enhance their academic success and prepare them for enrolling and succeeding in a post-secondary institution.

This pilot was designed to provide a safe harbor to protect these young male students and support them on a successful path to high school graduation. Membership in the organization was by invitation only to students who met the following criteria: a 2.5 (C+) GPA, no disciplinary record, a commitment to obtain a 3.0 GPA by 11th grade and a commitment to apply to at least four post-secondary institutions.

The Institute provided support and held a series of mentoring sessions with the students to help keep them focused and motivated. At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, all except one student successfully passed the end-of-course assessments and ended the year at or above grade level in all courses. This program will be continued next school year with increased involvement by the Institute.


The Institute puts a high emphasis on developing collaborative relationships with other organizations that are also engaged in schools, especially those operating after-school programs. Therefore, during the school year 2015-16, the Institute outreach will expand to serve many more students and engage in new partnerships with selected non-profits.

STEM Scholars Academy will continue at Lowes Grove and Neal Middle schools with heavy emphasis on developing language arts and mathematics skills. The Academy enrollment for 2015-2016 will consist of 50 students at each school from 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Barbara Walters will continue to instruct students on how to write computer code, as well as software writing and application development.

The NCSU Science House has agreed to collaborate with STEM Academy teachers to provide curriculum resources and scholarships to students and other participants from our middle schools for summer enrichment experiences.

US2020 is a new initiative developed in response to a White House call to generate large-scale innovative solutions to science, technology, engineering and math education challenges. The mission of US2020 is to dramatically scale up the number of STEM professionals mentoring and teaching students through hands-on projects, with a focus on serving underrepresented girls, minorities and low-income students.  The Institute has established a collaborative relationship with the Research Triangle Foundation, which is implementing a US2020 mentoring program aimed at recruiting mentors through companies within the Research Triangle Park. An early initiative is to hold a mentor-student match conference to allow students and potential mentors to meet and connect.

Communities in Schools (CIS) of Durham is a well-recognized and extremely successful after-school program. The Institute and CIS have discussed plans to launch a pilot Scholar Leadership Initiative (EXCEL-ERATE) in seven high schools to serve up to 450 students.

In addition to in-school initiatives, 15 churches in east Durham are being recruited to become extended school learning centers that can serve up to 50 students on a first-come, first-served basis, with a heavy emphasis on engaging young black male students. This program will be funded with resources from the City of Durham, the County of Durham, the Durham Public School System, with a possible grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. If this concept proves to be successful, it will be offered to other high schools across the state.

A “blazer of honor” will be provided to any 11th and 12th grade student who maintains a B average (3.0 GPA) from 10th grade through graduation. Students who obtain and maintain an A average (4.0 GPA) will also receive a dress shirt and tie, while 9th and 10th grade students with a C average (2.0 GPA) will receive polo shirts with the program emblem. Our goal through this program is to teach students to take pride in dress and understand how success is determined in part by their appearance.

While I am very happy with the progress the students made this year, we still have a steep hill to climb if we are to ensure that the schools, the students and the parents sustain their improved engagement. I am optimistic we have a great possibility of maintaining this progress, because we did not have any turnover at the leadership (principal) level or among our teacher coordinators. I am looking forward to another good year. — Howard N. Lee