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by: April Thompson Posted: Jul 13, 2020 / 03:04 PM CDT / Updated: Jul 13, 2020 / 05:33 PM CDT

A Memphis high school student is fulfilling her dream of getting into the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She is the only African American from the Memphis area accepted this year, but what makes her story even more remarkable is her dedication and the coach who helped her get there. Zekeya Gladney, 18, is an honors student at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering. She said West Point has an acceptance rate of just 10%. “It’s really hard to get in,” she said. Zekeya had the academics, but had to pass a physical test — a certain number of sit-ups in two minutes, a shuttle run and running a mile in less than nine minutes. “I only did four pushups in the whole two minutes when I first came up here,” she said. Zekeya needed training. Her mom suggested MASE’s high school football coach, Julius Jackson, who at the time was sick and busy with his football team. But he agreed to help Zekeya. “We went almost four or five days a week,” Jackson said. “We went right after school and then on the weekends.” That meant 5:30 a.m. workouts at Crump Stadium, pullups at Tom Lee Park and running at Shelby Farms. “I just kept putting her in situations that made her uncomfortable so she could get over the fear of not being able to, you know, not being afraid to fail,” Jackson said. Zekeya said she didn’t want to quit. “I wanted to make sure I got in there.” Her mom saw the transformation. “I am extremely proud,” mom Latrice Wright said. “I mean, she was a dainty little princess in dresses. I never imagined her outside running, doing pushups.” Zekeya went from doing four pushups in two minutes to doing 32 pushups in two minutes. Then came the letter, sent on behalf of the president and the secretary of the Army. “I was so happy just to see the excitement on her face. It was amazing,” Jackson said. Now Zekeya wants other African American students to know about the opportunities at West Point. “I talked to him about getting more kids, recruiting more kids into the service academy because it’s an Ivy League education for pretty much free,” she said. Zekeya reports to West Point for her first day Tuesday. She and her mom are already in town there, getting ready

We are one of 22 schools awarded the Tennessee STEM School Designation for 2020. This honor was developed with the guidance of the Tennessee Department of Education and the STEM Leadership Council to identify and recognize schools in their commitment to teaching STEM and/or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and integrating strategies that ultimately prepare students for post-secondary college and career success in the 21st century.

The Tennessee STEM School Designation also provides a “roadmap” for schools to successfully implement a STEM and/or STEAM education plan at the local level. Schools that receive the Tennessee STEM School Designation serve as models from which other schools may visit and learn. All K–12 schools serving students in Tennessee are eligible.

"As part of his Future Workforce Initiative, Governor Lee set out to triple the number of STEM- designated schools in Tennessee by 2022, and we are thrilled to see twice as many schools receive the Tennessee STEM Designation this year from last year,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “STEM education not only engages students with real-world problem solving in the classroom but provides them with the opportunity to develop creative and critical thinking skills that will prepare them for post-secondary success. We know STEM-related jobs are in high demand, and as a State, it is so important that we give all students the tools they need to be successful in the 21st century economy.”

Each school that was awarded the Tennessee STEM School Designation was evaluated through a rigorous application process. Schools were asked to complete a self-evaluation, participate in interviews, and host site visits with the Tennessee STEM Designation review team. The designation rubric included five focus areas: infrastructure, curriculum and instruction, professional development, achievement, and community and post-secondary partnerships.

As a part of the process, schools were required to submit a plan of action for implementing and sustaining STEM and/or STEAM education for the next five years. From this process, a total of 22 schools received the Tennessee STEM School Designation this year.

“Schools that earn STEM Designation incorporate strong STEM teaching and learning experiences that rest on inquiry, technology integration, work-based learning, and project/problem-based learning strategies tied to the world around us,” said Brandi Stroecker, Director of TSIN. “Each school has a unique STEM program, yet incorporates a similar approach by providing diverse, transdisciplinary teaching practices where students become the drivers of their learning. TSIN appreciates the hard work and passion that each STEM Designated school pours into their educational community. These schools consistently provide students with learning experiences that shape their aspirations for the future.”

STEM and/or STEAM education is a unique approach to teaching and learning that fosters creativity and innovative thinking in all students. STEM and/or STEAM is focused on building critical and creative thinking and analysis skills by addressing how students view and experience the world around them. Strong STEM and/or STEAM teaching and learning opportunities rest on inquiry-, technology-, and project-based learning activities and lessons that are tied to the real world. STEM and/or STEAM education is a diverse, interdisciplinary curriculum in which activities in one class complement those in other classes.

For more information about the STEM school designation process or implement STEM and/or STEAM education, contact

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