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Tough courses weighed
Do parents discourage hard classes to save grades
Bradwell Institute senior Mackenzie Payne on Tuesday prepares her paper-made egg catcher for an egg drop while partner Samantha ONeal and physics teacher Thomas Thornton look on. - photo by Photo by Danielle Hipps

Using a limited amount of printer paper and tape, students in Bradwell Institute physics teacher Thomas Thornton’s class on Tuesday tested whether they could buffer a raw egg from falls at four heights.
The pairs and trios made nervous faces as they measured the half-meter, 1-meter, 1.5-meter and 2-meter falls their eggs would face before dropping them. Some dropped their eggs onto contraptions on the floor, while others cocooned their eggs into paper carriages that fell with them.
“The egg lives,” senior Samantha O’Neal said as she and her laboratory partner, Mackenzie Payne, celebrated the success of their experiment. Theirs was the first egg drop.
“We have the best one,” Payne added.
Some students threw up two thumbs and beamed as the eggs survived the paper contraptions that took various shapes and sizes.
Labs like Thornton’s are designed to engage students and illustrate real-world applications for the words and numbers in their textbooks.
“By doing activities like this, it gets them to understand it on a conceptual level, and once they have a conceptual understanding, then we can go into the math and the application and all that,” he said.
They’re also aimed at bucking a trend identified in a recent ASQ nationwide survey of youth and parents that found 46 percent of teens are afraid to fail and take risks despite knowing that most science, technology, engineering and math courses require a challenge.
The survey was conducted in advance of National Engineers Week, an initiative held Feb. 17-23 to celebrate the positive contributions engineers make to society increase awareness for engineering careers.
Although the Courier was not able to conduct a survey of local students and parents, teens and their teachers indicate that there are split feelings toward STEM.
STEM courses are a hot topic in national and state education, an issue that Bradwell Institute science department head Sharyl Eastlake addressed.
“Americans are taking a backseat to scientists and researchers from other countries, and this is a concern,” she said.
Compounding the issue, Eastlake said she’s observed parents taking their students out of rigorous math and science courses because they are worried that lower grades could jeopardize their chance for the HOPE Scholarship.
“Parents cannot afford to risk lower grades in the Advanced Placement courses,” Eastlake said.
But that’s a double-edged sword; if students pass AP testing, they typically receive college credit for taking the tests, which can save money down the road.
Liberty County High School students also weighed in on STEM courses. Senior Justin Elsey, senior Brittany Burriss and junior Jordan Waters each are taking more science classes than the minimum requirement, and all have enrolled in AP courses.
Two of them even said they’ve taken AP courses without passing the test that could get them college credit. But they don’t regret the experience, and added that it prepares them for the collegiate level.
“AP Biology, I struggled in that, but I really liked it because it helped me gain some academic potential due to the difficulty,” Waters said. “It’s hard; you’ve definitely got to study, and your free time is going to be taken away. But it’s a good thing in the long run — when you get to college and other harder classes, it will help you.”
Waters is enrolled in his second engineering course offered through the Liberty College and Career Academy. He said he’s enjoying learning about engineering and the hands-on opportunities that come with it.
“I’d like to get more knowledge about the whole engineering course because at first I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do,” he said, adding that he did not know anything about engineering prior to discussions about the career academy.
Waters and Elsey, who is aiming for Emory University where he would like to study biochemistry with intention of becoming a neurosurgeon, both say future earnings is their driving force despite the rigor.
Not so for Burriss.
“My biggest thing is I like helping people, so that’s probably one of my biggest reasons I want to go into medicine,” Burriss said, adding she wants to be an anesthesiologist.
The Liberty County School System also has put a significant investment into classroom iPads that enable students to have virtual hands-on experience. Three high-school courses also are taught on digital course packs, another way to grab the students’ attention and interest.
In Thornton’s lab, seniors Edwardo Fernandez and Austin Smith spoke about STEM classes while putting the final touches on their origami-inspired egg catcher.
Both said their parents encourage them to take as many AP courses as possible, though the students admit that it’s a lot of work.
“My parents weigh in that it’s a good idea, because the more advanced or AP classes that I get now, the more experience that I get. It’s never a ‘you shouldn’t do it’ — it’s always ‘you should,’” Smith said.
Still, Smith said he plans to attend the University of Texas to study kinesiology with the intention of becoming an occupational therapist.  
Fernandez wants to attend either the University of Florida or Armstrong Atlantic State University for physical therapy.
They admitted that they’ve felt the temptation to enroll in less rigorous classes.
“It’s always a temptation to do it, but you just have to kind of stay in there,” Fernandez said.

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