(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

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Fresh from securing winning spots in the International Robotics Competition in Kentucky, The Science Academy STEM School students of the Los Angeles Unified School District are happy to celebrate their achievements. Their win has even allowed them to team up with other student teams from all around the world.

“It’s amazing how these kids were allied with students from other countries they didn’t even know. Often, you had an American team allied with a team from another country such as China. Although they didn’t speak the same languages, they were able to work together, win together and lose together. It was amazing!” said Carlos Lauchu, the robotics teacher at the Science Academy STEM School.

Close to 10,000 student teams in nearly 30 counties began competitions in September 2014. Emerging from the second largest school district in the country were two student teams from The Science Academy STEM School, a uniquely successful program led by Lauchu.

Out of the nearly 10,000 teams, one team took 15th place and another took 35th place in the global competition.


Empowering Students Brings Success

Lauchu is a science teacher whose efforts to keep learning fun have allowed him to reach the untapped potential of all his science students. He was allowed by his school’s leaders to raise the bar and level of expectation, developing the now 16-year-old Science Academy STEM School as a result.

It started as a small learning community on the campus of Robert A. Millikan Middle School of the LAUSD. Today, Lauchu and his partner Jodi Huff have worked to see the school become one of the top performing schools in the whole district. Having received commendation from the President of the United States and members of Congress, the program is one of a kind. For example, a student can take Advanced Placement classes from Lauchu in biology, chemistry and physics, which prepares them for high school and college, and even allows them to skip some first-year college courses.

The Science Academy STEM School is the only school where 100 percent of the students have achieved advanced-level scores on the California Standardized Test for eight years in a row. To add to that statistic, 50 percent of the students have also scored perfectly on the CST. Perhaps most impressive of all, Lauchu has never had a student score below the advanced level on the CST. People always ask him “How have you accomplished that?” or “It’s impossible to achieve these kinds of testing scores.”

Lauchu’s response is simple.

“People don’t realize the potential of these kids and what they are capable of achieving,” he says. “Let them try. Don’t just teach them what you want them to learn, teach them above and beyond what you want them to learn.”

He calls on educators to make sure they are raising the bar at all times.

“I don’t teach the level of standards. I teach above and beyond what the standards are because I want them to reach their highest potential. They have this huge level of untapped capabilities and we just have to learn how to get it out of them.”

As the 2011 District Teacher of the Year and nationally sought after speaker on STEM Education, Lauchu says it is vital that the sciences are more deeply expanded into elementary schools.

According to Lauchu, “the passion and curiosity for science needs to be fostered in early childhood in order for it to mature into high-level interest in middle and high school.”

Lauchu began teaching high school science in 1998. After two years, he moved to teaching middle school students. He says academic success in schools is not possible without leadership supporting bold teaching changes that aren’t always popular. Lauchu is quick to express gratitude for the continued support of his principal, John Plevack, Local Superintendent Byron Maltez and Local Lead Director Carol Alexander, without whom the program could not thrive.

Lauchu is also on the College Board, which is preparing an AP program for middle schools nationally. He is a strong advocate for more STEM education in the school system because it is vital to society. He believes that what he’s doing may even be able to help fill the abundance of STEM-related jobs in the future.


What Every Good Teacher Knows

If anything can be said about Lauchu it is best said by his students who are so appreciative of his fair, but tough, love attitude in the classroom.

“Kids learn because they want to learn, not just because they are taught. So the key to successful teaching is figuring out how to make kids want to learn. I make science fun, relevant, interesting and exciting. When they come to me in sixth grade, they have very limited knowledge in science. I try to talk to them and make it relevant and let them know how important it is in their lives and for the future.”

The Science Academy STEM School works to create lifelong learners. Once the students graduate, the hope is that the Science Academy has instilled a foundation of basics that will continue to be of benefit through high school, college and beyond.


Nicole Bailey-Covin is a public school education writer for Examiner.com.