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Academy provides alternative learning experience for students

About 50 students from Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties attend the school.
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ROOTSTOWN — Where Nora Haddon’s classmates live has made all the difference in her learning experience at Bio-Med Science Academy STEM School.

They don’t live just in her town. They don’t live in any one town. 

There are 830 students enrolled in Bio-Med, based in Rootstown. They come from 50 school districts across 10 counties. About 50 students from Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties attend the school.

Haddon, a 10th-grader at Bio-Med, said at comprehensive schools, students are typically from the same city and have similar backgrounds and experiences.

“I’ve met so many different people here with so many different backgrounds. It’s crazy. It’s a very different learning experience,” Haddon said.

She said through learning in different ways, she has had the ability to grow as a person.

“When I came here, I was pretty introverted. I’ve lost a lot of insecurities, and I’ve been able to grow as a learner,” Haddon said. “I used to struggle with things like math, and I don’t as much anymore.”

Bio-Med Science Academy STEM School is one of a network of independent public STEM schools in Ohio created over the past 10 years.

The 4th-through-12th-grade academy gives students the opportunity to create, build and design in the classroom. The school focuses on learning rather than merely teaching.

“We are creating an environment for educational change that people have been claiming for decades needs to happen. We’re actually doing it,” Lindsay McLaughlin, chief operating officer of the Rootstown campus, said.

Brian McDonald, a ninth-grade language arts teacher at Bio-Med, said schools need to prepare students for careers and jobs that don’t currently exist.

“How do you do that? It’s not by sitting down and following directions and learning one thing very well, or learning a lot of things kind of well. It’s about knowing how to access knowledge and information,” McDonald said.

Unlike comprehensive schools, teachers have the ability to create their own content and curriculum at the academy.

“It lends itself to an open kind of education, where I can dip into the things that I’m interested in or that I’ve experienced that I think the kids will be interested in. There’s a lot of freedom to do that here,” McDonald said.

All the students have laptops, which means the education is geared toward teaching them where to find information.

“It’s a different kind of education than what I got as a kid and even what I was doing early in my career,” McDonald said.

Throughout their time at the academy, students are able to experience STEM learning that integrates arts, humanities and sciences.

“Students get to bring their skills that they don’t necessarily learn from school and put those into education and grow their artistic and creative skills at the same time [that] they’re growing their educational skills,” said senior Abigail Longstreth.

Longstreth has attended the academy since her freshman year, and she will be a part of the fifth graduating class.

The academy opened in Rootstown in August 2012 to 69 ninth-graders from 27 school districts across five counties — there are now three different locations across Portage County. The Rootstown campus serves grades nine through 12 and is located at Northeast Ohio Medical University. It is the only public STEM school in the nation housed in an Academic Health Center campus. The Ravenna campus serves grades four through five, while the Shalersville campus enrolls students in grades six through eight.

Bio-Med provides students with individualized, project-based and hands-on courses that prepare them for the 21st century.

Alex Magglot, a seventh-grader at the academy, said projects give students the ability to collaborate with others, which can help build relationships and a sense of community within the classroom rather than working individually.

Maglott sees the academy as being challenging, which keeps him busy throughout the school day.

“At my previous elementary school, I wasn’t as challenged as I would have liked,” he said. “So coming here to Bio-Med, I wanted to be challenged more with the education system, and I definitely found that.”

The academy uses a Mastery Learning System to enforce the idea that all students will learn how to apply and implement what they learned into their everyday lives and problem solving. 

Randy Rininger, teacher at the Shalersville campus, said the goal of Bio-Med is to create contributing members of society. 

“We have those attributes that we focus on,” he said. “We’re not just focusing on the academics of a student. We’re focusing on the entire student.”

Rininger said Bio-Med has a positive culture.

“All the teachers are working together and collaborating on projects,” he said. “I love the way that we make the projects authentic and meaningful for the students, so they can apply what they’re learning into the projects that they are creating.”

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