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Sharing this outstanding article written about the recently implemented program Project Lead The Way – Launch, a PreK-5 STEM curriculum! EPIC 2 in every way!

"Our goal is to help more students prepare for the global workforce." - Crystal Appel, Coordinator of Support Services, Walton County School District.
Walton County School District is a network of STEM activity. 

The district recently implemented Project Lead the Way - Launch, a PreK-5 STEM curriculum, using Title IV, Part A funds to purchase materials, IPads and training. 

Project Lead The Way (PLTW), according to the company's website, is "an activity-, project-, and problem-based (APB) instructional design centered on hands-on, real-world activities, projects, and problems that help students understand how the knowledge and skills they develop in the classroom may be applied in everyday life."


Pair that with a teacher who has a computer science degree, decades of real-world experience as a coding consultant (clients included Coca-Cola and Turner Broadcasting System) and a graduate degree in education—as well as support at the school, district and state level—and there exists a schematic for success at Bay Elementary School in Santa Rosa Beach. Students are excited and engaged, and in the exploratory project-based classrooms their “almosts” are framed as learning opportunities, not failures.

Nancy Rentz’s second grade class at Bay Elementary is learning about simple machines and forces and is constructing incline planes—ramps in simpler terms—in teams of three. Rentz is the STEM teacher for the school so she touches all students, gifted or not. In her classes, collaboration is evident; the excitement, contagious.

“What kind of forces did you use to test your incline planes?” Rentz asks the teams. They agree push was one force they used. She prods further. “Could we also do a pull?”

Students shout Yes! “And gravity is a pull, going down,” one offers. “You could pull it up,” says another, it meaning the tiger in this project. Elementary level PLTW modules usually begin with a story and proceed through three activities, a project and a final problem. The problem for these second graders was to figure out how to help the story’s tiger get out of a moat.

Rentz's third graders are learning about and testing coolers and insulators; fourth grade is engaged in the science of flight and balanced forces.

Project Lead The Way is not a program to just create future engineers. It is a program that will help create more thinkers, more collaborators, more future producers.”- Karen Parisi, Project Lead The Way Trainer

Rentz focuses on four Cs: collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity. She says her goal is to help students realize they are creative, they are deep thinkers and they can design and build things whether they want to be engineers or not. Her classroom is a fun, energetic and safe learning space, but she does not let students off easy.

“There was lots of dead air in class,” she says. “It’s much better now as students get accustomed to the activities, expectations and my way of questioning. I wait through the uncomfortable silence after I ask a question. I won’t jump in and give them the answers.” They must work through it, she says; they can, and they do. “They are learning it’s OK to try and to fail. I make sure they know we all are learning and we all are making mistakes as we go along.”

Safety amidst that "failure" in PLTW sealed the deal years ago for Pam Cole, an elementary teacher and PLTW trainer from Wichita, Kansas. She and her colleague, Karen Parisi, provided training for Walton County teachers in January.

“There is beauty in failure and recovering. This program changed my life,” Cole says of PLTW. “Different kids can shine and be leaders. When I first implemented it, two of my lowest level kids performed the best on coding. They were using different skills, thinking differently. Even those who can’t read well can be very successful.”

PLTW lessons can be implemented as a whole class, in small groups or in centers. In Walton County, teachers used standards to choose the modules they wanted to include in classes. Christine Petersen, Digital Learning Specialist for Walton County School District, underwent PLTW training along with teachers. “Teachers can infuse technology into their instruction throughout the lesson,” she says. “They were excited to begin their projects, and PLTW will enhance their current science lessons and develop technology skills needed for the 21st century.”

Students say the science classes are fun. "We get to build things," one girl chirps while another counts holes in a plastic part, comparing it to the schematic on her team's iPad. The small groups are engaged and full of energy, and all appear on task.

“With Project Lead The Way (PLTW) different kids can shine and be leaders. Students learn there is beauty in failing and recovering. This program changed my life.”- Pam Cole, Project Lead The Way Trainer and Elementary School Science Teacher

Project Lead The Way is in its first year of implementation in Walton County schools, says Crystal Appel, Coordinator of Instructional Support Services. “The goal is to help more students prepare for the global workforce…It aligns with many of our middle and high school CTE program frameworks. PLTW has partnered with AP, and the College Board and PLTW have partnered on a program to encourage student participation in STEM degrees and careers,” she said via email.

Walton County School District plans to implement the program at the high school level next year, and Bay Elementary's goal is to be STEM-certified. The certification process takes two years.

As for students at Bay Elementary and other Walton County schools (Butler Elementary, Emerald Coast Middle and Walton Middle), they will continue exploring, building, working together and becoming fluent in academic and technological language through PLTW.

And yes, a few second graders have sights on becoming engineers.

Congratulation to Mrs. Sue Brack upon her retirement from Walton County School District!  

Mrs. Brack graduated from Paxton High School, Class of 1958.  She began her career at Walton County School District in March 1990 in the ESE Department covering for Johnnie Kay Ealum who was on maternity leave. 

From the ESE Department she went to Paxton High School in the summer of 1990 as a career aide.  She only worked at Paxton for a few months when there came an opening at Walton Middle School for an 8th grade instructional aide.

After working at Walton Middle School for a year, she transferred to Paxton High School as Bookkeeper where she remained for five years.  Mrs. Brack reminisces that this was a great opportunity to work at the school where she received her education.  She transferred to the district office as a bookkeeper in September of 1997.

Mrs. Brack has been employed at the Tivoli complex district office for nearly 22 years.  In her position at the district office she has had the privilege of working with several different Coordinators and Supervisors.  Mrs. Brack says she is known as the “budget lady.”  She shared that she has had the opportunity to work with many different employees throughout the district as she executed her responsibilities ordering textbooks, library media, science labs and school improvement.

Mrs. Brack stated she has witnessed much growth in the 29 years she has worked in the district, under several different Superintendents. When she began in 1990, Mossy Head School, South Walton High School, Emerald Coast Middle School, and Van R. Butler Elementary School did not exist.  During these years she saw the Freeport community increase from two schools to three. 

“After working for 28 years in banking, transferring to a position in education was very challenging.  I have learned a lot about education and how everything works together for the students in Walton County” she said.  Mrs. Brack also served as bookkeeper for the Walton Education Foundation for 20 years.

“As I retire and look back on my many years in the district,  I have made many new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.”    

Superintendent Hughes and the entire Walton County School District thank Mrs. Brack for her dedicated service, and wish her many happy, healthy years enjoying retirement! 

Photo credits: Stephanie Rhodes


Congratulations to Paxton Art students for winning third place at the Florida State Spanish Conference in Orlando, Florida for their poster entry. Over 35 schools were represented at the Conference. Paxton art students and their teacher, Corinne Wilson, represented Walton County School District in EPIC2 fashion!

Picture courtesy of Corinne Wilson

WCSD recently hosted an inservice training developed by the Florida Department of Transportation for Florida Safe Routes to School (bicycle/pedestrian) at the WISE/Carlene Anderson Training Center in DeFuniak Springs.  The purpose of the professional development, led by trainer Caitlyn Cerame, was to train teachers to introduce children to safe pedestrian behaviors and the concept of traffic. The goal is to teach children the necessary skills to be safer pedestrians whether walking to and from school, to the school bus stop, or other common situations.

The training was designed to:

  • Develop knowledge of the most current materials available for teaching bicycle and pedestrian safety skills (curriculum guides, lessons suggestions, equipment, videos) and how to obtain them for use with students. 
  • Learn and demonstrate the life-saving traffic safety skills that can be taught to students. 
  • Create learning outcomes so students will recognize safety rules and procedures for physical activities like walking and biking to school.
  • Help trainers learn to implement curriculum that meets FDOE bike/ped standards for K-5th grade.

Bay Elementary Second grade has been busy with a broad curriculum of applied knowledge and problem solving using STEM and the recent celebrations of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Read Across America Day through a series of daily centers.  Second Grade student, Rori, read The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss to the class, then each student colored a part of the piece to reveal the hidden message.  Students talked about how we are all different and unique which makes them special.  Teachers read aloud “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and then students used their themes from the book to work math problems graphing and plotting points with goldfish.  After reading “Cat in the Hat” students worked in groups to create a crazy hat for their teammates.  From “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” students were asked to complete a journal playing off of ELA-structured questions that asked students to form an opinion and make predictions about the author’s meaning.  

In STEM, students used applied knowledge of, “How Natural Disasters Can Impact Building Structures,” with hands-on learning.  They built structures and tested their strength with a hair dryer and then problem solved. Keep up the good work Second Grade! Submitted by Lindsey Harp




Freeport Middle School art students studied Traditional African Adinkra Cloth making for Art in World Cultures.  We created original stamps with historical symbolic meanings to learn about the Ghana Ashanti culture.  Way to go FMS artists!

Submitted by Kendra Estes

Mrs. Amanda Callahan’s 3rd grade class at WDE explored the character trait - Love of Learning - by completing a STEM project about the strength of cylinders. The class asked the question, “How many books will one piece of paper hold, when it is rolled into a cylinder?” Students were amazed at how strong a paper cylinder could be! One group was able to stack 16 books!

Submitted by Jessica Dawkins



Safety remains a commitment of Superintendent Hughes and priority for our school leaders, teachers and district! He stopped at a school to observe and give feedback on an ALICE Training drill!

Alice Drill