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S.T.E.M. Program Has Roots In Walworth County

An education initiative with roots at the University of Chicago is working its way into Wisconsin. This program is called S.T.E.M. and is intended to endorse Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in order to produce more high school graduates who possess these skills.

The program began in the late 1990s when Vivian Hoette, former director of education at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, started the program. Her focus was on program accessibility for all, resulting in hands-on communication techniques for people at the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville as well as for people at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan. Today Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay makes use of the program by hosting teacher development programs and student-based research projects and learning programs.

“The history here is pretty awesome,” said Kate Meredith, Interim Director of Education Outreach.

This program is helping communities throughout Walworth County. At the East Troy Community School District, there is a fully-integrated learning environment that creates curiosity, exploration and discovery leading to continuous improvement of the students and teachers.

“Our focus is toward incorporating strategies that engage minds,” said Chris Hibner, East Troy district administrator.

The Elkhorn school district has also been doing great things to assist students in preparation for real world experiences. One way this happens is through the school district’s “Project Lead the Way” program. Since its creation at the high school level in 2005, the program has seen growth and success leading to the 2013 addition of fast-track courses at the middle and elementary school levels.

Project Lead the Way has grown into the country’s number one S.T.E.M. program that involves kindergarteners through high school seniors. The program features courses that will prepare the students for future career opportunities.

“The Elkhorn district is one of only two school districts in the nation to provide Project Lead the Way classes district-wide at every grade level,” said Jason Tadlock, superintendent of schools at Elkhorn Area School District and a member of the Wisconsin Project Lead the Way State Leadership Team.

Badger High School has used S.T.E.M. philosophies in its career and technology education programs for a number of years and will be implementing the Project Lead the Way program next year, said Marie Collins, career counselor at Badger High School. Students who complete the courses, which include a variety of engineering, computer science and electrical engineering offerings, will receive credit at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Using funding from a non-traditional grant, Badger High School is also starting a group for girls with the purpose of promoting skills used in traditionally male-dominated career fields. So far, nine girls have signed up.

“These courses are popular,” Collins said. “And the Project Lead the Way program will add rigor and relevance to these courses. Labor data tells us there is an immediate need for these jobs, so we need to educate these students so they make career choices that are relevant and beneficial for them.”

Cindy Yager, career counselor at Delavan-Darien School District, has been working with her colleagues to strengthen the school’s S.T.E.M. program over the last three years. The school is recertified with the Project Lead the Way program and now offers five full courses.

The technology education wing is newly-renovated and a fabrication laboratory is now part of the wing. Students work with the latest technology, such as three-dimensional printers and laser engravers that teach them how to take a project from the design stage all the way through to production.

“We are among the first schools in Walworth County to have this lab and we’re very proud of its possibilities,” Yager said. “Next year, the lab will be open to community members so anybody with cool new ideas can come in and work with our students to design prototypes. Our students lead this project and it’s a large portion of our curriculum.”

Delavan-Darien School District is also modernizing the S.T.E.M. acronym to include an “A” that stands for Arts. As a result, a summer camp for middle-school girls is set to begin in the summer of 2016. Just as Badger High School is promoting females in the field, so is Delavan-Darien School District. The girls at the summer camp will be introduced to the fabrication laboratory as well as the engineering design process.

Whitewater School District implemented the S.T.E.M. programming at the middle and high school levels about six years ago. Middle school students can choose robotics, animation and design courses while high school students can choose similar courses with a final capstone course that provides credit at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“These are popular courses,” said Eric Runez, district administrator. “It’s all about getting the right students who understand the rigor involved because they’re highly-engaging.”

Williams Bay School District does not currently have a formal S.T.E.M. program. However, a new technology teacher was hired in 2015, and there are plans for more S.T.E.M. instruction implementation, said District Administrator Wayne Anderson.

“The more times you can show students how they learn, the more beneficial their adult lives are,” Anderson said. “S.T.E.M. instruction helps make the courses the students take in high school more useful and beneficial to them as adults.”

In a press release provided by the Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson, there are more than 6,500 schools nationwide that are offering Project Lead the Way courses to elementary, middle, and high school students.

Students in this learning environment will graduate with real-world learning experiences made up of engaging instructional activities, achievements based on competency and project-based learning opportunities. They will have the knowledge and skills needed for success in the global society.

Walworth County residents and students are fortunate because all of the school districts have programs, or are currently developing programs, aimed at promoting S.T.E.M. fields.