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Briar Woods High School Earns STEM Certification from Cognia

Briar Woods High School successfully completed Cognia STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) certification, making Briar Woods the first traditional high school in Virginia to receive Cognia’s STEM certification.  

To achieve the STEM certification, Cognia connected Briar Woods with the Chantilly office of Engineering Consulting Services (ECS), a company that specializes in geotechnical, construction materials, environmental and facilities engineering. ECS worked with Briar Woods teachers and staff to incorporate STEM into all content areas, said Briar Woods principal Sheila Alzate. 

Briar Woods’ partnership with ECS has allowed Briar Woods’ teachers to include project-based learning with authentic tasks that connect to the real world in their lessons, said Alzate. As an example of what this looks like, Alzate referenced a dual enrollment English teacher who partnered with an ECS staff member to incorporate research about off-shore oil drilling into one of her class writing assignments. As another example, Alzate shared about two Briar Woods math teachers who worked with ECS to learn more about the variables that impact concrete stability and applied this technical knowledge to class assignments.

Alzate said that this partnership with ECS benefits students and staff. “For our teachers to see their content area at work, how it applies to the workforce, and what skills students will need in the workforce is beneficial not only to students but also to the staff.”

Alzate also stated with how impressed she has been with her staff taking on this challenge. She said that they understood what standards they had to achieve but did not have a set guide for what it would look like in the classroom. “They are not just checking the box,” said Alzate. “We wanted these to be authentic and engaging experiences for our students and our staff, and that is what they have achieved. This experience has provided a lot of career exploration opportunities for our students.” 

Briar Woods’ connection with ECS, which began last spring, will continue next school year. ECS and Briar Woods will continue to connect staff and encourage additional professional development. 

Cognia is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that provides schools with accreditation and certification services. Cognia currently certifies 400 institutions globally. Briar Woods was accredited with distinction by Cognia in 2021 and received Cognia’s STEM certification in May.

Published June 10, 2024