The first year of STEM-based learning at Washington Elementary STEM Academy was such a success that the district began looking at ways to implement it in other schools.
“Our parents have been so incredibly complimentary about what a project-based learning approach brings to their students,” Warsaw Community Schools Chief Academic Officer David Hoffert said. “We’ve had parents say they’d be out on the weekends hunting for caterpillars that turn into monarch butterflies and how that’s not something that (their students) had ever been done before.”
With so much positive feedback from parents, students and teachers, the district wanted to expand the program starting at the elementary level and eventually grow it to reach all students.
On Monday, Warsaw Community Schools officials announced an expansion was in the works through the district’s ongoing partnership with OrthoWorx.
OrthoWorx, a nonprofit organization in Warsaw formed in 2009 with funding from the Lilly Endowment, works with the orthopedics industry and other groups to help make sure Warsaw lives up to its name as the “Orthopedic Capital of the World,” OrthoWorx Executive Director Brad Bishop said.
“We want students in every grade and every school to have an opportunity to have a STEM experience,” Bishop said.
OrthoWorx will provide $300,000 toward the district’s plan to train teachers, expand the program and implement the STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – program in each of the district’s eight elementary schools beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
The school district will also provide $182,000 of its own money toward the plan.
This isn’t the first time OrthoWorx has pulled out the checkbook for Warsaw students.
In May, OrthoWorx announced that it would support a second year of STEM learning at Washington Elementary with $112,000 in funding.
“It goes far beyond just the dollar amount. It’s about a partnership and it contributes to the belief that our community has in our school district,” Hoffert said.
Bishop said the partnership is a good match for OrthoWorx’s goal of making sure the orthopedics industry continues to thrive.
“We believe that STEM jobs are an increasing percentage of the workforce and even the jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree require a heavy concentration in math and the other components of STEM,” Bishop said. “STEM education is critical to our community.”
Bishop said OrthoWorx would like to see the program continue to expand to all Warsaw schools.
“Almost no age is too early for students to begin learning these skills,” he said.
Superintendent Craig Hintz thanked OrthoWorx for supporting the district’s STEM program and students.
“The system’s partnership with OrthoWorx provides unique and progressive opportunities to educate our students for their future and we are pleased to do our part to train future workers for the orthopedic industry,” Hintz said in a release.
The money from OrthoWorx will benefit the STEM program in multiple ways, Hoffert said.
Within the next few months, the district plans to bring in a local engineer or scientist to serve as a STEM adviser for the program – offering students “real world” guidance as they work through various projects.
This school year and next summer, teachers will begin mapping out lesson plans and curriculum and will participate in a weeklong STEM road mapping activity at the Smithsonian Institution, Hoffert said.
And perhaps most importantly, he said, part of the money will be used to train teachers from all grades about the benefits of STEM learning.
“Educators don’t receive a large amount of STEM learning with the focus on English/language arts for ISTEP, so we want to give teachers and opportunity to gain insight into the science, technology and other components of STEM,” Hoffert said.
The plan to train teachers will take about three years and will involve designating mentors in each building to help get teachers ready for the transition.
The Warsaw community will also notice the presence of STEM learning, especially as the district designs a mobile STEM laboratory that can travel between schools, Hoffert said.
Although plans are still in the works, the district is talking to RV manufacturers about finding a way to create a laboratory inside a 36-foot recreational vehicle.
“It would have probes, microscopes and learning stations for up to 30 students,” he said.
“We want parents, if they drive past our buildings, to see this mobile laboratory and see it as a commitment to students’ interests and needs. We want them to realize that STEM isn’t just a buzzword – that it’s a long-term investment in their students’ learning.”