Two Washington Community Schools teachers as well as two Loogootee Community Schools teachers have been selected to participate in Regional STEM Fellow Program through Regional Opportunity Initiatives or ROI, which supports the economic and community prosperity of Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties by implementing education and workforce development initiatives.
Lisa Emmick, a fifth grade teacher at North Elementary and Tara Weisheit, a third grade teacher at Veale Elementary, were the two Daviess County educators selected for a program that will focus on increasing STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math’s curricular relevance, supporting peer educators through mentorships, serving as instructional leaders in schools and bringing teachers and employers together.
Tracie McAtee from Loogootee Middle School and Jill Toy from Loogootee Elementary were the Martin County educators chosen.
“ROI Fellows were nominated by school principals because they are leaders within their schools and have a passion for creating relevant STEM learning opportunities for students,” said Todd Hurst, ROI’s director of education and workforce.
Hurst said the common theme across Southwest Central Indiana’s key industries, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and national security and defense, is that they are all STEM industries.
“A STEM literate workforce is essential to the economic success of our region moving forward, and the early grade levels are a critical time for young learners to see science, technology, engineering and math content as accessible and attainable,” Hurst said. “We think this program is an important first step towards growing a network of STEM educators throughout Southwest Central Indiana.”
Through an occupational needs assessment released earlier this year by ROI, results emphasized the importance of having STEM-literate students to meet current and future workforce needs within the region.
“STEM is a big deal and we realized we are waiting much too late to introduce kids to STEM,” said Tina Peterson, CEO of ROI, adding ROI has launched several other educational initiatives to help with workforce development as well, including the implementation of career coach Waleed Ma’arouf at Washington High School.
Several different approaches, Peterson said, will be used to help the 15 teachers selected to be a part of the program integrate STEM into kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms.
Throughout the course of the year, Emmick, Weisheit, McAtee and Toy will have a chance to meet with several regional industry representatives to learn more about the skills needed for career success.
Weisheit said during the group’s first meeting just a few weeks ago, they were able to tour Cook Polymer in Bloomington.
“These partnerships give us, as elementary teachers, a better vision of the types of jobs we are beginning to prepare kids for,” she said, adding the group will meet bimonthly until the end of the school year and will cover different STEM topics at each meeting.
Emmick said many of the jobs teachers will be preparing students for don’t necessarily involve college degrees, at least not at the beginning.
“A lot of the jobs don’t require more than a high school education because several of the businesses will pay for your training or schooling,” Emmick said, adding Daviess County is working to form a partnership with the Daviess County Economic Development Corp. to find businesses that may need assistance with STEM. “It filters to the whole community.”
Jay Wildman, principal at North, and Brenda Butcher, Veale’s principal, said they are excited about the opportunity given to their teachers.
“We are excited about the opportunities this program will bring to our schools and our students,” said Wildman.
Butcher said it’s teachers like Emmick and Weisheit who help move the corporation forward with STEM and other technology-related projects.
“It’s teachers like Mrs. Weisheit and Mrs. Emmick who dedicate many hours over the summer and outside of the school day to drive Washington Community Schools in leading the way in technology and STEAM, science, technology engineering, arts and math projects,” said Butcher.
The 15 teachers selected for the fellowship must commit to being at the same school for at least two years and serve as a STEMbassador to peers in future cohorts of STEM educators. The teachers are also given a $2,500 stipend the first year and relevant supporting STEM resources and materials. Also covered by ROI is the cost of providing substitute teachers for the days teachers attend the sessions.
In addition to having two teachers named to the fellowship, ROI also selected Loogootee schools as one of six Southwest Central Indiana school corporations to participate in the Ready Schools Initiative.
Ready Schools will provide up to $150,000 in funding to each grantee to support a year-long development process.
“Our region is home to amazing cultural and economic assets; however, we continue to see a disconnect between the quality and quantity of talent and the workforce needs of our key industry sectors,” said Peterson. “The workforce is clearly the Achilles heel for this region. The Ready Schools Initiative is a concerted effort, informed by the industry and education to begin addressing this issue.”
Peterson said unlike the fellowship program, Ready Schools has a broader focus.
“This is not just elementary school,” she said. “This is pre-K through employment. Our region needs a pipeline of qualified employees that bring a diversity of experiences and educational attainment levels. Ready Schools brings school districts, employers and communities together to form an approach that helps students develop the skills they need to meet the demands and opportunities of today and tomorrow.”
Andrea Huff, Loogootee High School principal, said the grant will allow the school to put in place a more systematic approach to college and career readiness through pathways of exploration, exposure and experience.
“Today’s educators are preparing students for jobs that aren’t created yet,” she said. “So we have to transition from teaching students how to be experts to a model that teaches our students to be thinkers, problem solvers and acquire the soft skills to be successful in any work environment.”
Loogootee Elementary Principal Dara Chezem said things are still in the planning stages but at the elementary level, discussion has centered around mapping STEM activities to engage students.
“Last year, our teachers finished mapping the English language arts and math curriculum and we will work to finish the process with science and technology standards including STEM, “ said Chezem.
Elementary students, Chezem said, will also be exploring career options, especially in the areas of defense, life sciences and manufacturing.
“While elementary students are too young to choose a career, exposure to the many career choices available and what it will take for students to meet their goals, will help students see the importance of school and be more enthusiastic and self-directed with their studies,” she said.
Loogootee teachers, Chezem said, have also been increasing the rigor of student projects and assignments, mapping the curriculum to make student learning intentional and assisting students to set their own learning goals with strategies.
“The digital learning grant along with the ROI planning grant opens exciting opportunities for our staff and students,” Chezem said. “These grants will further allow relevant STEM exploration and events through which our students will see the relevancy of education at an earlier age.”