Congratulations to Hawks Nest STEAM Academy for being recognized as a Model STEM School of Distinction! Located in Gaston, N.C., Hawks Nest home to 350 students K-5 whose education is driven by scientific investigation, enthusiasm for problem solving, and a creative spark that puts the “A” in the STEAM Academy.

Hawks Nest opened its doors in 2016 as the first STEAM school in Gaston County. Principal Jill Payne notes that creating a STEAM environment from scratch required a real mindset shift for teachers, students, and parents, but that involving all stakeholders from the beginning built a culture of inclusion and collaboration that remains today. “Our goals is make sure students love school, and we work hard to create exciting and creative opportunities to motivate them to want to be here,” says Payne. “We engage students in hands-on learning where they explore content to make meaning of learning and applying that learning in solving real world problems.”

Since the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and North Carolina State Board of Education began recognizing schools for outstanding STEM achievement in 2014, only 16 schools have earned the model school designation. And in 2020, Hawks Nest was the only school to receive this honor. Principal Payne describes applying for this distinction as a years’ long process that started with building a foundation on the five overarching principles in the NC STEM rubric and then inviting teachers to seek out the personalized professional development opportunities and collaborative efforts that would ensure they could live and breathe these principles and share them with their students every day.

“Due to the hard work of implementing STEAM concepts through problem-based learning, our school has seen a significant increase in student achievement, with more than 38 proficiency points gained in four years,” says Payne, noting that the state’s honor validates the vision of leadership and commitment to it by families and members of the community.

So, what do students at Hawks Nest love most about their STEAM experiences? Robotics and the science Olympiad, of course, but also clubs that focus on “the genius hour” concept, allowing students to choose an area to explore and become an expert in. And, says Principal Payne, nothing quite beats starting every day at STEAM stations that wake students up with hands-on projects designed to create, design, and explore, sparking creativity and finding innovative solutions to problems.

Use this link to learn more about the STEM Schools of Distinction program.