By Sue Moore
Science has become more hands on for students in the Schoolcraft and Vicksburg school systems through a KRESA program known as Project Lead The Way (PLTW). Jason Luke, a former counselor in the Vicksburg School system, moved to KRESA two years ago and pretty soon, PTLW was part of his responsibility.
He and others at KRESA researched what was needed by local industry, often hearing back that they need machinists, welders, and the like, coming out of area high schools. The hope was to find a program that could be integrated into math and science classes in K-5, 6-8, and finally in high school, in order to plant this seed early.
They found a good model in both the Jackson and Lenawee Intermediate School Districts and decided to adapt it to Kalamazoo County. They did this in Schoolcraft Middle School Carol Lafave’s, design and modeling class, Portage schools, Vicksburg’s course was set for Dave Vales Engineer and Design classroom in the high school.
The challenge was to find corporations to underwrite the cost of training and equipment needed to start the courses in 2013/14 school year. Luke approached the SW Manufacturers Consortium and ten companies donated the needed startup funds. At the same time, Vicksburg received a three-year grant for $35,000 from General Motors to expand the course in high school and even add a
class in robotics.
In Lafave’s Schoolcraft classroom, the industry representatives are right beside the kids, thinking ideas through, working hand-in-hand. The students are eating it up, Luke says. “The teacher becomes the guide and the students become the
problem solvers. He said “They want to produce something vs. handing in a paper that’s about half-done, as some of the more disengaged students have been known to do.”
In Vicksburg, it was all about redeveloping the drafting program because as in most high schools, woodworking, metals and home economics have been eliminated.
One year after first seeking support for introducing the science/tech education program known as Project Lead The Way (PLTW) into Kalamazoo County schools, organizers thanked the corporate sponsors and business leaders with a Manufacturers Appreciation Day in late February.
“We’re grateful to all the corporate partners who stepped up to help hundreds of students participate this year at our pilot sites: Portage Central and Schoolcraft Middle Schools and Vicksburg High School,” said Luke. “We’ve had more than 40 business volunteers, including machinists, engineers and management, working side by side with our students as they create, design, build, become frustrated and eventually produce a finished product. During the appreciation day, the business partners heard from the students themselves on why this effort is so worth it.”
Luke says PLTW will expand to reach 3,000 to 4,000 young people in eight area middle schools next school year, and he anticipates up to 10,000 students participating throughout Kalamazoo County by the 2015-2016 school year.
Corporate sponsors of PLTW in Kalamazoo County schools include Accu-Mold, Humphrey Products, Schupan & Sons, Flowserve, American Axle & Manufacturing, General Motors, Stryker Corp., Graphic Packaging and Autocam. The program also has received funding from the Hall Technology Initiative and the Southwest Michigan Technology Consortium.
Now taught in more than 5,000 schools nationwide, Project Lead The Way engages students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses using hands-on, inquiry-based methods.
“Through this world-class curriculum and the partnership of area business leaders, students of today will
become the higher-level thinkers and problem-solvers needed for the workforce of tomorrow,” Luke said.