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DECA Prep is a second-year public charter school in Dayton, Ohio, currently serving students in grades K–3 and 6. A grade will be added each year until the school serves grades K–6. It has an open, first-come, first-served enrollment process. Its early results have been impressive: after one year of operations, 97 percent of its third grades are reading at or above grade level.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experiences are essential components of DECA Prep’s education curriculum. Its faculty utilizes a continuum of labs and experiments to maximize the relationships between math and science teaching. In class every day, teachers emphasize vocabulary building, informational text, and the use of graphics in observation and lab activities to ease the understanding of complex STEM concepts. In addition, students have access to a science lab classroom.
This commitment to innovation and excellence has not gone unnoticed. The school itself was created with help from a Race to the Top award to its sister school, the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) . And DECA Prep itself was part of a forward-thinking consortium that won a Straight A Fund Innovation grant from the Ohio Department of Education in 2014.
During a recent site visit, we watched as a second graders transitioned from their home classroom to the STEM Lab, where they worked with the DECA Prep science teacher. The STEM lab classroom contains octagon-shaped tables with drawers and lab chairs. Chalkboards completely cover two of the classroom walls. The lab is outfitted with microscopes and science equipment.
Their teacher guided them through the scientific method to record observations. He explained to the students, “We have been learning about solid and liquids and particles. You will have to do a little more writing than you are used to.” He then described the activity: “I have eleven different solids. We are going to put them in water and see what happens after a couple of days. We are going to look at how and if they change. The first thing you will do is observe the material. I'm going to draw a picture of it, then I'm going to name it. What is this object? What does it look like?” Students answered their teacher, after raising hands. The teacher instructed students to use their journals for each object they were examining by drawing a picture and then writing the name and all the properties.
The focus of DECA Prep is to prepare first-generation urban students to attend college. STEM learning experiences will engage students, prepare them for real-life issues and challenges, and help them become logical thinkers. By instilling the culture of success and rigorous academics in elementary school, students will gain the knowledge, habits, and skills necessary for high school and to prepare them for college. Students do not spend time deciding if they will go to college but where they are going.
It is our pleasure to show you a glimpse inside the life of an excellent school during National Charter Schools Week. To see a little more, check out this trailer created by DECA students.