School of the Week: Carver STEM Academy, where building with Legos leads to building brighter futures

Making changes for the better and believing the “mission is possible” is the motto Principal Sabrina Evans had in mind when she was named principal of Carver Elementary-Middle School in 2012.

As the former principal of Beard Elementary School for four years, serving Prekindergarten to first grade students, Evans admits it was a challenge leaving her “babies” to work with the “big kids” at Carver, but the challenge has been rewarding.

View the Carver School of the Week Newsletter

The new Carver STEM Academy

The first change implemented by Evans was a proposed name change: Carver STEM Academy. She selected a STEM-focused curriculum to model the district’s successful STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program, and also to honor the legacy of George Washington Carver, the renowned agricultural scientist, educator, and humanitarian for whom the school was named.

Evans also implemented a new model of learning with six hours of academic-focused course work and one hour of enrichment each day for middle school only.

“Our kids are so talented and gifted; one of the first things I wanted to do when coming to Carver is change the culture and climate…do things differently so that our students are excited to learn,” Evans said.

A new school song was also created by Principal Evans, Tricia Cunningham-Barnes, Instructional Specialist, and melody by Carmyn Brown, Music Teacher, titled, “Carver PRIDE: Producing Respectful Individuals Determined to Excel.”

“We’re trying to not only bring out the best in our students, but to also ensure they’re prepared academically to compete globally with other students around the world,” Evans said. “We want our students to take on a different method of learning. We want them to have a skill set that they can carry into high school, college and beyond, and we’re doing that with a variety of different programs. We’re doing so much here, sometimes it’s difficult for me to keep up!”

Building brighter futures, one Lego at a time

Some of the school’s STEM programs include a Lego League, Chess League, Academic Games™, Robotics, and DAPCEP (Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program). Nicole Ames-Powell, Certified STEM Instructor, leads many of the STEM programs.

“We really believe strongly in learning through play,” Evans said. “When you’re playing with Legos, you’re not just playing with Legos. You’re building higher-level critical thinking skills. If we want them to one day be able to construct a building, they can start building with Legos now. Then one day, they’ll be the architects of our future.”

Kendra Barclay, Academic Engagement Administrator, said her favorite program is the Young Eagles Aviation Club, organized under the leadership of Dr. Brian Smith, director of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum at old Ft. Wayne in southwest Detroit.

The program will start this year in December. Each participating group will be responsible for using Engineering, Mathematics, and Science to build an Aviation Model. At the end of the program in June, the team to build the most successful Aviation Model will win a prize.  Last year, the winning team was invited to attend an Air Show in the Upper Peninsula.

Mrs. Barclay said she hopes to one day partner with Davis Aerospace Technical High School to place Carver students on a direct path to becoming pilots. The rigorous program at Davis Aerospace prepares students for higher education while developing technical skills for a career in aviation. At Davis Aerospace, students are able to complete solo flight training in a Cessna aircraft to earn a Private Pilot License.

“Our students are blown away by the idea that they can become ‘real’ pilots, flying a ‘real’ airplane by the time they graduate,” Barclay said. “But it’s possible through the great programs that we have at DPS.”

Something you didn’t know…

Carver participates in the “Tomorrow’s Leaders Today” program, led by science teacher Agatha Gordon, which prepares students for careers in veterinarian medicine through a partnership with Michigan State University. Roughly 25 students participate in the program and are offered a behind-the-scenes look on how to take care of animals at the Detroit Zoo.

Once per month, the students visit the zoo on a Saturday. They also visit the Belle Isle Nature Zoo and Cranbrook Institute of Science to look at various exhibits.

Just as placing emphasis on new models of learning is significant, Mrs. Barclay said it is equally important to take care of students’ emotional and physical needs.

“We take care of the whole child. If they have concerns, they can come to talk to us,” she said. “If their parents have concerns, they can come to talk to us. We make every parent feel welcome and children can tell when you’re sincere. They benefit from the administrators and teachers having a positive and caring relationship with their parents.”

More Offerings

A.I. courses for PreK-8th grade students with Autism Spectrum Disorder to ensure students can remain on a continuous learning path instead of having to transition to another school after a certain grade level, Music, International Art Competition and National Scripps Spelling Bee participant, Computer Lab, Academic Games, Tutoring/Extended Day Program, Summer School, Accelerated Reading/Math, Reading is Fundamental, Beyond Basics Reading/Literacy Support, Student Government, Financial Literacy, Conflict Resolution, Girls and Boys Basketball for grades 3-8, Volunteer Reading/Business Corps, Art, Sign Language, Quilting, School Newspaper, Chess Club, Community Partners, Soccer Team, Recycling Club, Glee Club, Choir, Saturday Enrichment School. All grade levels also focus on different genres of literature each month. The genre for November was narratives.

If you would like your school featured, send submissions to with the subject line “School of the Week candidate.”

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