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Destin Elementary School unveils new ‘hands-on’ STEM/AI Lab

Destin Elementary School opened a new STEM and artificial intelligence lab Tuesday, aimed at propelling students toward careers in those high-demand fields. “One of the Okaloosa School District’s pillars is modern […]

Destin Elementary School opened a new STEM and artificial intelligence lab Tuesday, aimed at propelling students toward careers in those high-demand fields.

  • The lab is funded through a $5.7 million dollar grant by Triumph Gulf Coast and the Okaloosa County School District to fund the Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Python and Data Science (AMPD) Elementary STEM program. Officials seek to nurture elementary students’ interests in emerging technologies while also building a local workforce pipeline to drive high-wage jobs.

“One of the Okaloosa School District’s pillars is modern innovation,” said Destin Elementary Principal Amy Meyer at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. “I want to thank Superintendent Chambers and Okaloosa County for pushing to get STEM in our elementary schools because this is where it lights a fire under the kids.”

The grant helped transform what had been a small nook in the school library into a vibrant new space with hands-on science activities. It will also allow the purchase of coding and robotics equipment for students to tinker with artificial intelligence concepts.

The lab is named after former principal Joe Jannazo, who first set plans in motion to create a dedicated STEM facility at the school. Though he moved to a new position before seeing the lab fully realized, staff named the lab after him as a tribute to getting it started.

  • “I saw a need in an area that could match it in our media center,” Jannazo said at Tuesday’s event. When early ideas took off with backing from the district and state grant program, he said, “to have an idea and then see it come to fruition with the support from our career and technical education department and the Triumph Grant is amazing.”

After connecting with district leaders, current principal Meyer tapped the C.T.E. Department to bring the lab to life. LaTavia Deliford spent her summer designing curriculum, training colleagues and decorating the space with colorful inspiration for young scientific minds.

Jerral Horton, Career and Technical Education Program Administrator stated, “One of the primary goals of the AMPD Elementary STEM program is to inspire students to pursue careers in fields that have a profound impact on the world. By introducing them to the exciting and dynamic realms of AI and Data Science, educators hope to ignite a passion for discovery and innovation.”

Horton said the district has always strived to make advanced learning accessible for teachers. The book of lesson plans aligned with lab supplies and equipment should set instructors up for seamless STEM integration.

  • She also applauded students already charging ahead with complex coursework at the middle and high school level. Last school year, middle and high schoolers were supposed to earn 50 certifications. They earned 215. This year they are projected to earn 250.

The District envisions the lab as the first phase of a full pipeline from elementary exposure to future careers. Superintendent Marcus Chambers suggested the hands-on experiments tap into pure academic passion at an early age. Learning through fun tinkering and programming, students gain inspiration to pursue technical training throughout their education.

“When you go to classes such as at the middle or at the high school, this is high level stuff that these students are doing,” Chambers said. “These are college level, industry level certifications that they have to pass.”

Supporting students as they integrate that technical know-how into professional skill sets remains a priority moving forward, he said.

“We want to take this artificial intelligence to another level,” Chambers said. “When we started this, we were one of two districts in the state of Florida to have artificial intelligence in the school system. We want to continue to make you all proud, but more importantly, we want to make our students proud.”

With the lab now open as an inspiring springboard, staff say they look forward to enriching young minds.

  • “Our hope is to continue making this available to all the kids. We have our teams that meet after school, but we want to open it up to kids during the school so that all of our schools can get involved,” Meyer said.

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“This is Awesome/ Thank You for Your Service Reuse an Recycle”
“Carolyn, there is two of them this year, the one at the fairgrounds is still on the 27th”
“I thought this was scheduled for April 27th at Fair grounds in FWB.”
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