August 23, 2012 |

Grant helps Medical Lake students look toward future

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math components will

receive funding

By JAMES EIK

Staff Reporter

Thanks to a $1.35 million grant, the Medical Lake School District will see vast investment in its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields throughout all levels of the district.

The grant comes from the Department of Defense, according to Medical Lake High School teacher Ann Everett, and is accessible to all students in the district. She wrote the grant application, choosing to focus on the district's STEM components.

Spread out over three years, the grant will provide funding for a number of STEM-based initiatives. The first year, Everett said, is to help get the ground language in place, working to build up a mentor program between schools and help bring awareness to what STEM is. Some afterschool programs will be held at the elementary school level, to further students' engagement. In effect, it helps jump-start the following years and make them successful.

The second year will focus on differentiating instruction and assessment, in an attempt to help everyone be successful with STEM-related material. That means extra help would be provided to assist students who weren't fully up-to-speed, and advanced material would let those who have learned the material continue. Culminating in its third year in 2014-15, technology will become the focus, with improvements in software and technology being implemented throughout the district.

“My focus was really to take out the fear of STEM,” Everett said.

Over the course of the grant's three years, the district must also provide online learning opportunities for students who may have moved overseas due to military deployment or other reasons. The district also receives students who are moving into the district from other parts of the world. Having the opportunity to finish or start classes was a pivotal part in Medical Lake's receiving the grant.

“We might get somebody that comes in from Germany or somewhere else in the United States,” Everett said. “They often start a class there and everybody's semesters are different.”

Weekend events will also take place throughout the district next year, to help not only engage students in the material, but parents as well. One specific event will be having students build submarines at Michael Anderson Elementary. From there, Everett hopes the students will be able to launch them at the base's pool and see if their creations were successful.

Medical Lake learned it was awarded the grant in early June, just as its 2012-13 budget was being finalized. The infusion of $450,000 for three years will help continue the strong momentum STEM coursework had been receiving over the past few years.

Unlike grants for Career and Technical Education (CTE), STEM grants can even apply to English courses. Everett said CTE grants typically apply to one class. The grant helps embed science and math skills in different study areas, to keep the ideas present in students' minds.

But merely receiving the grant doesn't improve student success overnight. That will take time, patience and instruction from Medical Lake's staff of teachers.

“Just because we have this grant, it isn't the solution,” she said.

The goal is to help students pursue careers in science and technology fields, which currently have some of the highest demands for jobs in the U.S. But, nationwide, fewer students are turning toward that career route.

Medical Lake's STEM material took a large leap in 2011-12, with funding from the state's Workforce High Demands grant. The district was able to start a robotics course at the middle school and form an introduction to engineering course at the high school. Both those programs will look to expand this next year as they grow and gain interest throughout the school.

In the end, the STEM courses in Medical Lake are off to a strong start and continue to grow,

“The family and community connection of the grant is so powerful,” she said.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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