By Sue Moore and Carol Lohman
Vicksburg and Schoolcraft have been gearing up to bring students into classrooms that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math, the “STEM” subjects. This is through the guidance of Jason Luke, Education for Employment Administrator who oversees this STEM countywide initiative called Project Lead the Way (PLTW). This year’s students held a STEM Showcase Day at KRESA recently, in front of over 100 local manufacturers, parents, and teachers.
Project Lead the Way is a world-class curriculum for K-12 that focuses on problem solving and teacher facilitation. Students are given project-oriented problems to help them develop skills to be successful in post-secondary education and on into the future. The 3 Cs of this program are collaboration, cooperation and creativity.
The curriculum is rigorous and fosters collaboration and critical thinking. It has been developed by educators at all levels and industry experts who add credibility to the activities that prepare for the global economy.
Students from Schoolcraft elementary program demonstrated and described their robot activities. Vicksburg High school EFE students represented the school’s Lead the Way program. Each level of the STEM curriculum is a module that leads to the next level. Standards are developed for each grade.
Some parts of the program are expensive for local districts; educators are working to encourage funding by some of the local industries and businesses that will eventually benefit by having workers better prepared to enter the workforce. KRESA, for example, would like to provide robot kits for all students taking the PLTW classes.
Filling the STEM workforce need in the future is the goal of the program. Hopefully, the students will have the skills to fill the needs of a global economy and in many cases they may already be employed by the industries by the time they complete their education. Many of the jobs of the future will require only a two-year post-secondary education. Others may require a four-year college degree. But they will enter college with skills that will prove valuable for their chosen fields.
The students from all grade levels demonstrated to the community members, how they took projects without answers and found solutions. They worked as teams at their various schools to create and build their solutions, Luke said. “We want to get kids excited about future STEM careers and produce problem solvers for business, industry, and life in general. This is hands on project based on learning, gives young people the chance to create, build and then demonstrate their successes.”
There are approximately 2,000 students currently enrolled in Project Lead the Way in Kalamazoo County. He is aiming for 10,000 students in the near future, Luke explained.
Anna Patton, Education for Employment Co-Op Coordinator, works closely with Luke and admires his dedication and passion to help kids learn. He is into project-based learning so students can graduate and be hired by local manufacturers with the basic knowledge they need to succeed, she said.
Luke, a former Vicksburg High School guidance counselor, put his net out two years ago, raising more than $100,000 from area manufacturers who want to see results by hiring graduates in Career and Technical Education programs, in the years ahead.
Employers include American Axle Manufacturing, Humphrey Products, Stryker Instruments, Accu-Mold, Schupan & Sons, Inc., Flowserve, Inc., Pfizer, Graphic Packaging International, Autocam Corporation and the Southwest Michigan Global Tooling and Technology collaboration.
The Kalamazoo Foundation, Northwood Foundation, Stryker Johnston Foundation, Richard and Thelma Hall Foundation, which was established by the son and daughter-in-law of the co-founder of Durametallic Corp., now part of Flowserve, also contributed. And General Motors pitched in with a three-year grant.
Thanks to this generosity, thousands of students are now engaged in STEM education at Schoolcraft elementary and middle school, Portage Central middle schools and Vicksburg High School. “We’re hoping to reach most Kalamazoo middle schools and high schools by 2016,” says Luke, who organizes Project Lead the Way locally through Kalamazoo RESA’s Education for Employment program. Volunteers from business and industry are also needed to assist students in the PLTW classrooms. Interested parties may contact Jason Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org.