MUSCLE SHOALS — Muscle Shoals Middle School now holds STEM certification, a rare and coveted distinction in the state.

The certification, which was three years in the making, was awarded last week by the AdvancED accrediting agency.

"There's really a push now for delving into science, technology, engineering and math training and we take it a step further to include the arts," Principal Keith Davis said.

"This gives kids lots of options and encourages the processing and application of information at a higher level than ever. For us, STEM takes a cross curriculum approach and teaches kids to think on a higher level."

Davis said Winfield's school district was the only one in the state with the system-wide STEM certification when his school began seeking it.

Muscle Shoals Middle School was the first school north of Birmingham to get a standalone certification, and one of very few in the state.

Davis said his school added "Project Lead the Way" classes two years ago with robotics and engineering. The school also offers career preparatory courses, which allow for high school credit, along with other technology-based classes.

"There's a lot of project-based learning in our math classes as well," Davis said. "Our teachers are facilitators, which allows students to make discoveries."

Muscle Shoals Career Academy Principal Caryn Hairell said the middle school's emphasis on STEM programs will benefit her school.

"They'll come to us with a skills set and foundation that propels them further than ever before," Hairell said. "Our vision is becoming a reality — providing innovative, high quality STEM instruction across the district."

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