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School for teachers

Even though classes aren’t in session at Opp High School, there has still been lots of activity in the building during July.

That activity has been from the approximately 575 elementary, middle and high school teachers who are attending the “summer institute” for the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI). During last week, and for the rest of this week, the teachers received training each day on innovative ways to teach the subjects of math, science and technology to their students.

“The content is still the same as it’s always been — one plus one is still two,” said Nadine Scarborough, director of the summer institute, which is administered through the Troy University AMSTI headquarters. “We’re just looking at different ways of presenting the material through experiments and hands-on learning. We’ve found that students today, by using these methods, have a better chance of actually learning the material, rather than just memorizing it for a test.”

Teachers who attended the institute on Monday participated in a variety of activities, including building race cars to test physics and creating a compost heap — complete with live worms — as a lesson in soil and decomposition.

Scarborough explained that the teachers who attended the summer institute will be able to teach these same lessons to their students during the upcoming school year.

“The certified trainers that are training our school teachers are classroom teachers, themselves,” she said. “They’ve used the AMSTI materials in their classrooms before, and they know they work. Our school teachers experience everything here at the institute as if they were students themselves.”

AMSTI was created by Gov. Bob Riley in 2000 as a way to help Alabama public school students better compete in the important subjects of math and science. In order for a school to be named an AMSTI school, at least 80 percent of its faculty must attend a summer institute two years in a row. Andalusia Elementary School hosted last year’s summer institute.

“We try to find a host school that’s centrally located,” Scarborough said. “But our territory is the largest in the state, and it’s hard to find a location that’s convenient for everybody. We cover an area as far as Escambia County to the south, Butler County to the west and Houston County to the east.”

Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart said AMSTI has been a success at Opp Middle School and OHS, and he is proud to have OHS hosting this year’s summer institute.

“Hosting this training is simply an opportunity to provide what little assistance we can,” he said. “We have the facilities and the space needed for the number of participants and we are more than happy to help out. On a personal note, one of our administrators, Aaron Hightower, and two teachers, Robin Spurlin and Chasity Dee, are serving as presenters, so this is an opportunity to ‘show off’ some of our staff.”

The state provides the AMSTI materials to participating schools, and teachers can continue to use many of those materials for years.

“The math materials our teachers keep to keep; we just refurbish the materials every so often,” Scarborough said. “The science modules are rotates every nine weeks from one school to another. Basically, they go to a school for nine weeks, then return to the warehouse where we refurbish them, and then they go out for another school to use.”

Covington County schools that participate in AMSTI are Red Level School, Pleasant Home School, Fleeta Jr. High School, Straughn Middle School, Straughn High School, Florala City Middle School, Opp Middle School, Opp High School, Andalusia Elementary School, Andalusia Middle School and Andalusia High School.

“It is evident that schools that have implemented AMSTI are performing at significantly higher rates than non-AMSTI schools,” Smithart said. “We are certainly pleased to have Opp Middle School as an AMSTI school and we have found that not only are students performing better, but they truly find the activities fun and engaging.”