Principal Medria Blue-Ellis: Producing the next generations of STEM Leaders

Take a walk with me through the Engineering Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) classrooms and this is what you might see: 6th grade engineering students presenting hobby organizers that were designed by following the engineering design steps and included collaboration with peers, self-reflection, and task completion according to assigned deliverables; 7th grade students discussing the skull of Phineas Gage, read about in a trade book and seen firsthand while on a field trip to the Harvard Museum in Cambridge, MA; 8th grade science students testing bridges modeled after those they designed and tested using a unique software program; high school physics students testing race cars they built to apply recently learned physics concepts; or a high school English class laboring through Shakespeare’s language as they deconstruct Romeo and Juliet.


July 2016 Photo of Medria Blue-Ellis

This is ESUMS! And under the leadership of Principal Medria Blue-Ellis, our future generations of STEM leaders are being developed! Medria was born and raised in New Haven, CT and is the 3rd oldest among 4 children, all by the way have earned advanced degrees and are the first generation to graduate from college. A belief that education, a major civil rights concern of the 21st century, can either rewrite or seal destiny fuels my work as an educator. The most impactful experience came during her years at Hill House High School in New Haven, CT, of which Medria is a proud graduate, when she served as an Ambassador for International Education and visiting 2 countries under the supervision and care of NHPS administrators. She also participated in INROADS, a career development organization servicing talented minority youth, which provided me with fundamental skills in corporate and community leadership. Howard University was the next step for Medria where excellence, activism and service were instilled in her.


Prior to becoming Principal at ESUMS Medria had the good fortune of beginning her career in one of New Haven Public School’s (NHPS) first magnet schools where she taught middle school for 5 years. She was trained under the Bank Street model of teaching through integrated thematic units. After the 1st year of teaching, I became a Writing Project fellow. Like a ballerina first masters form before the dance Medria focused her early efforts in studying the craft and art of teaching. Over the years she also taught and grew as an educator in varied school models and levels: middle and high school and private and public. So yeah, ESUMS made sense as the next stop for Medria!


As mentioned earlier, Medria has been principal of a new STEM schoolhouse model, the Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) for 7 years.   ESUMS is a New Haven Public School (NHPS) serving only 6th through 12th grade and STEM school with an emphasis on engineering.  ESUMS is only 9 years old, but has been exciting to watch Medria seamlessly merge her knowledge of general pedagogy and literacy with that of STEM education while also building the school’s foundation and brand.


ESUMS students have won numerous local, state and national math, technology and science competitions and have earned hundreds of college credits through our Project Lead the Way and Advanced Placement classes as well as in NHPS’ college before college program and the ESUMS/University of New Haven STEP early college program.   It has been a dream come true says Medria “to celebrate ESUMS students as they have matriculated to the country’s top schools, including Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and Howard among many others”. To support the school’s success and initiatives for college and career readiness, Medria have secured outside funding of nearly $100K through grant writing and private giving.  This funding allows for flexibility to support our annual regional college tours and international travel experiences.


The Awards that ESUMS has and continue to amass are nothing short of astonishing. Here are just a few: 2016, 2015, 2014 Magnet Schools of America, highest award: School of Excellence, 2015 CT School of Distinction, 2015 School ConnCan Success Story, 2015 Pillsbury Peace Award ESUMS Academic Results: 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment: ESUMS students had outpaced the state and district in both English and Math: ESUMS 60% prof.+ English; 45.8 Math prof.+ 2015 Science CMT & CAPT: ESUMS students had outpaced the state and district. ESUMS CMT Science 94% Prof+ and CAPT Science 89+ Prof. + -CMT Scores: 2013 scores Growth Analysis from 2009-2013: 11.5 point increase in Prof. and 16 point increase in Goal; 2013 CMT All Grades Reading 91% Prof and 83% Goal; Writing 87% Prof. and 70% Goal; Math 93% Prof. and 76% Goal; Science 79% Prof. and 66% Goal


I have personally been on a tour of ESUMS and it wasn’t uncommon to discover a group of debaters strategizing how to move up the ranks on the high school debate circuit, a robotics team planning for the school’s next First Robotics Team Competition; a parent teaching eager learners Python, a coding language; middle schoolers raising hands to answer questions posed to them by their instructor, an ESUMS 9th grade student and recent author; or a poetry club reciting verse from found poetry. This is ESUMS!


Central to the school’s mission statement is they challenge students to imagine, investigate and invent. Medria says “As I visit classes daily, I can evidence our strengths and identify opportunities for continued growth. I am proud of the level of student engagement overall. As a staff we are exploring effective grading practices and student motivation”. We ask you to join in a larger conversation about how children succeed. Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, explores character traits such as perseverance, conscientiousness, optimism, curiosity and self-control. In both the home and school these character traits are worthy of consideration. Students who
are conscientious set goals and complete tasks such as homework and projects. When completing in class or at home project based work students must tap into their curiosity and through trial and error learn to persevere. Both the home and school must teach children that self-control, being in control of one’s actions, and optimism, feeling positive about oneself and a given situation, are important traits that lead to embracing an attitude that you can and must succeed in spite of all challenges and obstacles.


Principal Blue-Ellis believes that ESUMS can be a model for educational change. Medria believes that project based learning and strategy embedded teaching results in meaningful and purposeful learning experiences. Medria continues by saying “I believe that if we, the home and the school, encourage the right habits of mind, a student primed for success will journey from the home, to the schoolhouse and into the demanding STEM programs of the nation’s best colleges and universities. I am hopeful that we will do this work together because when I look at the great things that happen in our school and the faces of the students as they are challenged and excel, I know that tomorrow’s leaders are being made here today.”


Principal Medria Blue-Ellis personal awards are just too numerous to list in this article, but trust me, any award centered on teaching, being innovative & STEM driven education, has been duly presented to Principal Blue-Ellis!


A personal reflection from Medria Many people say that being a teacher is a thankless job.When I use the technology or lifesaving cure my students or someone else’s will invent or discover, I will be thankful. However I am already thankful for Joe and many other former students of mine. When I suffered from a heart ailment, Joe was my EMT. He cared for me during my time of need and I was thankful that I had fulfilled my duties as his teacher and that we had a great rapport. When my father was battling terminal cancer, Joe was there again. This time he was my father’s ICU nurse. He was professional, kind and a rock of wisdom to lean on during this new experience with death and dying. I know that being an educator provides me with a unique advantage of being able to access the best parts of our humanity and the humanity in others.”


What does Medria consider her strengths and weaknesses? She says I am able to capture an experience and analyze what should be taken away so that the next encounter can be better or more manageable. I am a strategic thinker and can plan for the immediate as well as the long term. I am fascinated by art of teaching and learning. I am driven to provide the best learning experiences for each child, and I find it difficult to accept when the personal best of those I manage isn’t enough for a student to succeed.”


Medria lives in Bethany, Connecticut with her husband of 21 years, Malcolm Ellis, and 3 sons.


Ethnic Online is proud to feature Medria Blue-Ellis as a true Ethnic GEM and will be working with her at the CT Family & Music Festival, Celebrating & Embracing STEM Education. September 10th 2016 – for more information


 Edited by Leonard Webb

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