Bringing STEM careers into the classroom

Marshalltown High School life science teacher Erin Weatherly is ready to return to her classroom with a bevy of information pertaining to health professions.

She is spending six weeks at Central Iowa Healthcare, participating in the Real World Externships for Teachers of Mathematics, Science and Technology program, which is designed to expose secondary school educators to professional applications of their classroom curricula.

The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council pairs Iowa teachers with local businesses. Currently, about 40 are participating.

Weatherly began her externship earlier this month. She spends her time developing a curriculum for the hospital’s diabetes education program and conversing with health professionals.

She said the experience will add a “fresh perspective” to her teaching.

Weatherly has watched physicians perform procedures, such as knee surgery, using equipment that didn’t exist when she became an educator at MHS nine years ago.

“Those are things you can’t learn in a textbook. You can’t really get a full understanding of just all the prep and communication and charting and documentation that goes along with the surgery,” she remarked.

Weatherly said she can bring those real-world experiences back to her students to provide them with an understanding of hard and soft skills they would need to work in health care professions.

Those skills are also in line with the Iowa Core, which outlines standards in 21st century skills students are expected to learn to achieve college and career readiness by the time they graduate.

Another goal of the externship program is to create partnerships between local businesses and schools, which Weatherly said benefits her students.

“My students ask me all the time, ‘I’m interested in this, but I don’t know what’s available. I don’t know how to apply. I don’t know who to contact,'” she said. “For me, personally having those resources to give them – a name, a phone number, an email – that’s valuable.”

Weatherly is able to ask hospital employees about their professional development and education pathways.

“That’s what my students don’t understand. You want this great job, but you maybe have to go through four years or five years of school,” she said. “Just through all the jobs, whether it’s nursing to food service, there is so much I was never aware of – all the prep and everything that goes into just getting into those jobs.”