Stepping ahead with STEM

Marshalltown Learning Academy wins competitive grant

“We’ve had a number of STEM opportunities for kids; we’re really looking to enhance what we’re doing in the STEM field.”

It was announced earlier this week that Marshalltown Learning Academy was one of 19 STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) grant recipients statewide, and MLA Principal Eric Goslinga said it will benefit the building’s students.

The areas of science, technology, engineering and math have been a major focus in the Marshalltown Community School District in recent years, and the grant awarded to MLA is another step toward exposing students to STEM fields.

“We’re very excited that MLA was able to secure one of the grants that were awarded statewide,” said district Superintendent and Marshalltown Business-Education Alliance (MBEA) co-chairman Theron Schutte. “We’re looking at their effort as a pilot for our district, as it relates to the high school as well as MLA, to try to further advance work-based learning experiences while in school.”

Goslinga said he learned about the grant opportunity over the summer, when he met with other educators to discuss “infusing more STEM opportunities into the high school experience for kids.”

The $25,000 grant will help fund curriculum updates, professional development, site visits and student field experiences. Goslinga said the money will also be used to build business-education partnerships for work-based learning experiences, like apprenticeships or internships.

“We’ve reached out to several entities to try and build some additional partnerships,” he said. “One of those … is North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters; our community college closed their construction trades program, so we’re trying to fill that gap by reaching out.”

Along with new programs on the horizon, Goslinga said MLA students had been enjoying STEM activities prior to the news about the grant.

“We did a reverse-engineering initiative with the James Dyson Foundation earlier this year,” he said. “Kids reverse engineered vacuum products to see how they work, how they went together.”

Other STEM activities involved building automated underwater vehicles from scratch, as well as open-water scuba diving to explore concepts like buoyancy, Boyle’s law and more.

“A lot of what’s built-in [to the grant] is building upon what’s already been started at MLA, related to job shadow experiences or, possibly, apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, internships and that sort of thing,” Schutte said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to scaffold at Marshalltown High School for as many students as possible.”

He said the current MHS sophomore class went to a career fair last school year, and this year they have been touring local businesses and industry.

“The next step is to build job shadow opportunities,” Schutte said. “They could either do additional job shadows or maybe do some sort of internship or apprenticeship for which they can get credit, possibly at high school as well as college.”

In the future, Goslinga said he wants to see a large part of a student’s daily learning to be work-based. He said MLA is still looking for business partnerships.

“We’re also going to be, throughout the process with [Iowa] Workforce Development, asking people to, if they don’t have a registered apprenticeship, to consider creating a registered apprenticeship,” Goslinga said. “There are benefits to the business for doing that, too.”

He also said expanding STEM education does more than benefit students.

“Honestly, this is as much an economic development issue as an educational issue,” Goslinga said. “Doing this kind of work is just good public policy for lots and lots of people.”

For more information on the 2017 STEM BEST grant, visit https://iowastem.gov/stembest/2017

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com