James Conaway has been teaching at Langston Chapel Middle School for the last seven years, a career he took on after he served in the U.S. military. He comes from a family of public service and taught others while overseas, so he sees education as his calling. He was recruited from Armstrong State University towards the end of his own education at which time he began teaching 7th and 8th grade science courses.
These days, Conaway is LCMS’s STEM/Ag course teacher for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. He is Ag-certified to teach agriculture, but the school is still in the process of building their FFA program.
Conaway teaches in two different classrooms – one indoor and one outdoor classroom, both of which have non-traditional classroom setups. Grading is different, too, encompassing outcome, participation, and effort.
Students work on a variety of hands-on projects throughout the year ranging from robotics, coding, and digital construction to the current project of two outdoor greenhouses and a garden in the school courtyard. Students complete all of the aspects of the projects themselves including the basics like from putting concrete in the ground and covering the greenhouse structures to setting up the irrigation system and even building a solar powered farming robot.
The final result will be an edible botanical garden classroom, thanks in part to a Foundation grant he received for the program. Part Two will be honey bee hives near the garden, something that’s been spearheaded by a donation from another teacher at the school.
Conaway works to incorporate the different components of the curriculum for all of his students at varying grade levels, including the Special Education program students. The outdoor classroom ties in to both renewable energy and conservation and the outdoor classroom will soon have students taking apart the sprinkler system to reduce the usage from 24 gallons per hour to 3 gallons per hour.
Conaway is constantly applying for various grants to support the STEM program, which he said takes about 400 hours per school year to both research and apply for the various grants. Conaway applied for a total of seven grants during the 2018-19 school year and was awarded six of them, something he says would not be possible if it weren’t for the supportive administration at LCMS. He pulled $9,722 in grants last year.
His motivation, however, comes from the students. “Of course, their pride. But the best thing is their feeling of ownership. We can come out here and clean up all day long, but when you watch others go out there and drop stuff and see my kids say, ‘Hey, no. This is ours. Please clean it up…” The ownership is key. Learning things is awesome, but so is showing leadership.”