7571 North Elyria Road, West Salem, OH 44287
Phone: (419) 846-3151
Fax: (419) 846-3361
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Elementary Principal Julie McCumber recalls when STEM was first introduced in the classroom. Teachers presented third graders with an open-ended problem to solve as part of a STEM-focused lesson. McCumber remembers what a teacher told her after a rocky start.
“We told them that they need to solve the problem, and the response was- why? You’re the adult; you’ll solve it for us,”
This did nothing to deter than, rather demonstrating the serious need for innovative education approaches for the students of Elyria, in McCumber’s words, “to change the mindset of these little ones so that they have the confidence and the initiative to be the problem solvers themselves.”
Northwestern Middle and High schools were STEM designated in 2014, and they have more recently partnered with Battelle, High Schools that Work, and the PAST Foundation in for The Literacy Design Collaborative Problem-Based Learning professional development cohort through a $680,000 “Straight A” grant for professional development in project-based learning. Northwestern is leading the 5-district collaboration through this LDC and PBL. It’s been a long process to get us to this point; Superintendent Jeffrey Layton remembers the difficulties of starting out – a 12-year journey to get us to where we are…”
“There were a lot of people throwing mud at us ten-plus years ago and saying – oh, you can’t do that; that’s going to cost too much; oh, you just need to focus on the foundational skills and the basics, we can’t afford to or don’t have the time to do any more than that. It took a lot of selling, gathering data, writing grants, and recruiting for the programs, as well as employing and developing the very best teachers, while providing enhanced professional development and other supports for our existing teachers as well over this lengthy time period.”
High School Principal Mike Burkholder highlights how far the school has come since 2006.
“I think that now you’d have an outcry if we suddenly said – you know what, we’re just going to focus on the basics… it would be much larger than any resistance we had earlier in this process.”
So how did they grow STEM from an idea to a reality in their rural district? They focused on two main points: professional development, and fostering a “STEM mindset.”
“It’s a comprehensive cultural change, perspective I think,” says Layton. “Problem-Based and process thinking should go across all disciplines, across all grade levels, all buildings. We have purposely followed this path and our kids are benefiting as a result.”
“We’re not a magnet school,” clarifies Burkholder. “We’re a regular school that has a strong emphasis in STEM type programs. And we take the same approach to everything else that we do to STEM. We’ve added some programming in fine arts, and we try to pool everything and overlap it. And that’s kind of what’s unique; we’re a regular, rural high school system sitting here in a cornfield.”
No matter how unique their school may be, they still have a guiding mission that all schools can support.
“I believe the best way to engage kids is for them to have their sights on something,” says Layton. “A problem or goal in mind – whether solving a problem or working on resolution of a problem, and establish some goals on how to get there…. There’s a lot of learning to do, a lot of work, but our students need to experience this process. The result is authentic, real-world learning.”
“As a result of our increased rigor and empowering students to learn in real world situations across all content areas, at all grade levels, our students are maturing at ever younger ages and solving real-world problems.”
They aren’t done now. As if having a K-12 STEM learning culture and excellent 4 to 6-year MS-HS pathway STEM programs in Robotics, Clean-Renewable Energy, Engineering, Biomedical, Computer Science, Agri-Business & Production isn’t enough – Northwestern is pursuing possible additional 4-year career pathways in Business, Teaching/Education, as well as additional advanced Botany, Environmental, and Biology Courses. Additionally, the district is expanding industry credentials, student organization participation, and a greater number of internship opportunities.
“It’s all about our kids and creating more opportunities for them to be successful”, says Layton.
If you run a rural STEM school, these are the people to talk to. Reach out to them personally if you have any questions, or want to visit the school!
Jeff Layton, Superintendent
7571 North Elyria Road, West Salem, OH 44287 | Phone: (419) 846-3151 | Fax: (419) 846-3361
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