West Fargo STEM Academy Reaches Over 50 Students Grades 5-8

Over the past four years, West Fargo School District teachers have written for grant funding to support a summer STEM Academy for their students. Each year’s programming has been a bit different to reflect the grant amounts and requirements, but all-in-all the Academy has created a place for professional development and student enrichment for both teachers and students.

“It provides a sandbox-like atmosphere for teachers to design transdisciplinary STEM units that focus on design learning. Teachers are able to try out their units with our STEM Academy students, who enroll and attend for free.” says Jane Laux, 21st Century Instructional Coach at Liberty Middle School.

This year’s grant only allows to work with students at Cheney Middle school, but will fund not only this summer Academy’s two sessions, but also summer Academies for the following two years and an afterschool STEM Club held at Cheney Middle School. In the past the Academy has reached students at West Fargo High School, Sheyenne High School, Cheney Middle School and Liberty Middle School.

At the Academy teachers have a place where they can try new ideas and build lessons for next year without worrying about the normal school-day schedule. Teachers must include standards in their units and include all four of the core disciplines, but they have more freedom… even the ability to teach a different subject than they normally do in school helping create transdisciplinary units.

The Academy’s first session ended in June and reached over 50 students who just completed 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. The next session starts July 11 and Laux is expecting the same participation numbers.

The three projects exhibited in June’s session focused on designing through the Engineering Design Process (EDP). Participants that came to the community exhibit became forensic scientists as they experienced four student-designed crime scenes. They also stepped into the shoes of an ornithologist while students presented their habitat designs for local bird populations and were able to experience history as you imagine a stay in our student built 1:1 replica of  Anne Frank’s Annex after walking through the 6 Million Hall–an art installation of projects that represented the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

“I was so happy to hear an incoming 6th grader comment about hos she is so glad she will start at Cheney next year already knowing friends there because she was new and really scared until now. Culture is a huge part of this kind of learning and environment.” adds Laux.

As the year’s roll on, Laux hopes to see the Academy grow and, if funds allow, she’d love to see a year-round STEM program like this available to any student in the metro area. By attending this type of program students don’t just receive summer enrichment and remediation that is important to their parents, but they love the hands-on projects and the collaborative learning environment.

“The Academy enables students to see and make friends, but most importantly they become a partner in their learning rather than an observer. We tell our kids all the time that they own their education and should be advocates for it!” says Laux.

A big thank you to the following West Fargo School District teachers, counselors and administrative staff who’ve helped make the Academy as success: Meaghan Kirsch, Shannon Blomker, Joel Vannett, Katie Parker-Riccio, Melissa Uetz, Amber Batsch, Josie Eyers, Lisa Woodbury, Teresa Blackcloud, Jenni Stewart, Karen Lietz, Alyssa Helm, Cora Davis, Kyle Engdahl, Kelly Holaday, Johanna Ibarra, Darcy Olson, Sally Richardson, Marisa Cole, Lisa Klabunde, Caroline Frasse, and Janelle Hogenson.

The South East Education Cooperative manages the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant that encompasses 21 afterschool programs in southeast North Dakota which includes West Fargo. The SEEC partners in giving youth access to quality STEM learning opportunities to become innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders who can solve the challenges facing our nation, both today and tomorrow. Find out more about the 21CCLC programs funded by this grant at http://www.ndseec.com/21cclcAND consider attending our afterschool conference coming up Aug. 2-3 at the Avalon Event Center in Fargo. Find details and a link to register at www.ndseec.com/21cclcConference.

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