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STEM for all in DIstrict 834

District 834 is hoping to bring its students into the 21st Century.

Starting next year the Stillwater Area School District will launch a full Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative.

"We need to prepare our kids for the 21st Century," District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn said. "We need students to have skills for the future."

The District 834 STEM curriculum will be available for all students - kindergarten through 12th grade - in a variety of formats.

Three-legged stool

The development of STEM curriculum for District 834 started more than a year ago when the district decided it wanted to look at innovative programming, Lunn said.

"STEM immediately came to the forefront," he said. "The challenge was how to implement the program with minimal or no additional resources."

Lunn said District 834's STEM program became a reality thanks to grants and donations from community partners.

"It's kind of a three-legged stool," he said.

The first "leg" was to generate funding to purchase the curriculum and implement the program, Lunn said.

District 834 received a major grant from the 3M Foundation, which will provide $126,675 to purchase new curriculum and materials at the elementary and secondary level.

The second "leg" was identifying how teachers can receive training to teach the STEM curriculum.

District 834 was able to enter into a partnership with St. Catherine University to provide training.

The Anderson Foundation will provide the funding for the training.

Lunn said the total will be $156,000 over three years.

The third "leg" was to purchase lab equipment to fully implement the STEM curriculum. District 834 was able to enter into a partnership with the Hubbard Foundation, which will provide a matching grant of up to $50,000 over a five year period.

"The community really became engaged in this exciting STEM initiative," Lunn said. "All our kids can have those experiences - I think that's what attracted the partners."

Developing the program

District 834 already began offering a few STEM courses this year, which incorporate hands-on learning that require students to solve real-world problems. Next year will expand greatly on those offerings, Lunn said.

Starting next school year, District 834 will begin offering STEM courses in both the elementary and secondary schools, grades 3 through 10.

"We're going to expand out on both ends as we move forward," Lunn said.

At the elementary level, Lunn said the district intends to use "engineering kits" to help educate students on some of the basic concepts of STEM such as circuits, machines and robotics.

At the secondary level, District 834's prime focus will be implementing Project Lead the Way programs.

Project Lead the Way is an advanced set of courses aimed at preparing high school students for college-level classes and careers in the STEM field.

At the junior high level, students will have access to the Gateway to Technology (GTT) program, which features a project-based curriculum designed to challenge and engage the natural curiosity and imagination of middle school students. They study mechanical and computer control systems - think robotics and animation. Students also explore the importance of energy, including innovative ways to reduce, conserve and produce it using solar, thermal and wind power.

At the high school level, District 834 is hoping to eventually offer both pathway to engineering and biomedical sciences through Project Lead the Way.

The pathway to engineering program includes classes on everything from introductory-level courses to aerospace engineering. Other programs that District 834 is hoping to offer include classes on automation and robotics.

The biomedical science program has students explore the concepts of human medicine and are introduced to topics such as physiology, genetics, microbiology and public health.

Not a perfect program

Even though the district will offer a nearly all-inclusive STEM program, it's still not perfect, Lunn said.

District 834 had previously sought $982,300 for STEM facilities during November's election, but the ballot question failed.

The district's facilities are lacking in terms of STEM, but that is something that will have to be reviewed at a later date when funding is available, Lunn said.

"We're severely lacking in the spaces; we're having science classes in spaces designed for English and social studies," he said. "It's not the best plan in terms of what our facilities can offer, but we're committed to developing this program."

Preparing students for the future

Lunn said the implementation of STEM curriculum in all District 834 schools will have countless benefits for students when it comes to preparing them for the future.

Specifically, Lunn said, the STEM curriculum will give students the real world skills that most companies are looking for their employees.

"STEM is one way to do that and that's why we've chosen it," he said. "We need to have experiences where they're applying those skills."

Lunn said he is very confident in students' abilities to succeed in the new STTEM curriculum.

"That's their world," he said. "They focus on the future, not our past."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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