A Carrollton Elementary School third grade teacher who established a classroom program she playfully dubbed “Herb-onomics” is among 23 Georgia educators named 2019 Georgia STEM Scholars by the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center.
Ann Catherine Cox is also the only designated scholar in West Georgia RESA, an educational region that includes public school systems from Carroll, Coweta, Harris, Heard, Meriwether and Troup counties.
For Cox, using STEM principles offered an organic fit into her teaching philosophy.
“Creating educational experiences for children has been a passion since I was a teenager working at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis,” said Cox. “I spent my weekends and summers educating museum guests on the wonders of the natural world.”
Cox continued this passion when she later moved to Georgia, first working for Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy’s Rock Ranch, assisting with the design and implementation of its first “agricational” field trips initiative. Then, in the spring of 2006, she found herself living in Carrollton when a new opportunity arose at Carrollton Elementary School to be the science lab teacher.
“My heart leaped at the thought of being able to recreate the magic of the Children’s Museum and The Rock Ranch for the students at Carrollton Elementary School,” said Cox. “Every three weeks, more than 1,000 K-3 students rotated through the science lab. We learned how to work as scientists, explore, ask questions and above all, appreciate the wonders of our precious planet.”
Like all schools, the recession forced some hard changes, said Cox.
“While the science lab was unable to remain, the passion for science was alive in our students and our system began to pursue STEM opportunities within each classroom,” she said.
Cox served on the STEM committee for CES since its inception. Serving as the chair of the STEM Operational Team, she meets with representatives from every department and grade in the elementary school throughout the year. Cox is also a science ambassador for the state which makes her a primary contact for teachers looking to make the science standards come alive in their classroom.
“Mrs. Cox goes above and beyond, each day, in her endeavor to inspire our youngest learners with a passion for STEM,” said CES Principal Kylie Carroll. “She is a lifelong learner who seeks to continuously gain knowledge and better her craft, and she conveys her love for learning to her students and colleagues.”
Cox said she has seen STEM morph and grow over the years. Her students have created and competed in engineering challenges, collected data, learned to predict and to think like scientists.
Most recently, CES has ventured into, and grown to love, the area of food production through a partnership with the school district’s nutrition department, said Cox.
“Carrollton Elementary School is a Title I school and many of our neighborhoods have limited access to affordable and fresh food,” she said. “Too many of our students have limited exposure to healthy food choices.”
Through the STEM committee/school nutrition partnership, the focus was placed on building healthy eating habits among students. The team developed the motto “WE ARE TROJAN GROWN: Growing healthy minds, healthy bodies, and a healthy community” to support this initiative.
“I have seen Mrs. Cox deliver several classroom lessons that incorporate STEM standards and her students are actively engaged in her lessons and demonstrate a high level of understanding based on her creativity with hands-on learning applications,” said Dr. Linette Dodson, School Nutrition director. “Her students have even influenced our school lunch menus by allowing us to utilize a ‘3 Sisters Soup’ recipe that was developed incorporating foods that her class grew in their school garden. It has become a popular menu choice for students and staff in our elementary school.”
Cox said this experience led her to want take the momentum to a deeper level the following school year.
“I wanted to tie in more standards and stretch the gardening experience across the curriculum,” said Cox, who applied for and was awarded a grant for “Herb-onomics” through the Carrollton City Schools Education Foundation.
“Herb-onomics is an herb-growing entrepreneurial experience for my students,” said Cox. “We are growing herbs in the aeroponic tanks and will soon be able to harvest, dehydrate, weigh, package and sell them. My students will be trained in every aspect of the entrepreneurial experience.”
Cox said if this prototype unit is successful, she is hopeful it will be implemented on a larger scale.
“Having our students be a part of the food-growing experience has been deeply satisfying,” she said. “The lunch ladies tease my class as we go through the line, because they know my students will request the salads and vegetables. By participating in the growing experience, my third grade students have become more willing to try new foods. Seeing my students make healthy eating choices and discussing the food that they eat is incredibly rewarding because I know this experience of healthy eating is an impact that will last a lifetime.”
Cox and the other 22 STEM scholars from across the state were recognized March 23 at a celebration of GYSTC’s 30th anniversary at an event at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. GYSTC is a private, not-for-profit educational organization designed to increase interest in and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as subjects for serious study for K-8 grade levels teachers and students. It is headquartered at Kennesaw State University with regional centers and programs across the Georgia.