STUDENTS IN MR. SMITHíS Industrial Technology class learned to use the districtís CNC router during class last fall, making a workbench for in-class use. The new IT classes offered at RCHS are part of the districtís commitment to introducing students to STEM education that can be used later for college and career advancement.
The Reed-Custer School District is working hard to focus students on STEM careers. To that end, the district has upped its efforts in STEM education, and increased opportunities for students to reach out and connect with the folks in STEM-based careers right here in the community.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
The district is taking a two-pronged approach to STEM education - the classes students need, and helping them connect to real world careers by partnering with the area's two local Exelon power plants.
"The first part is creating some networking opportunities within our own community. Connecting with the Braidwood plant and well as with the Dresden plant," said Christine Nelson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. "Every year we've had students go to the Braidwood plant training facility, and they experience what it's like to be in the control room. This year, we had a group of 6th grade students go to the Dresden plant. They spent the day there and they were able to do some hands-on activities in each of the different components of the training facility. So, they had some exposure to engineering, they had some exposure to the mechanical side of running the plant, they learned a lot about how that plant operates."
It's a lesson that has become more important as demanding careers in STEM disciplines expand. Nelson said that students at the middle and high school were able to connect even further with Exelon engineers, networking with some of the younger professionals who work at the power plants.
"Our 8th graders and our high school students had breakfast with six of the engineers from the Dresden plant, which was a more informal setting," Nelson said. "They talked about their education, all that experience that led them to those engineering careers, so our kids were really interested in what they had to say and had a lot of questions for them, about their college experience, their high school experience, and then their career experience as well. They were able to really connect with them."
The increase in STEM work and exposure has continued this spring. This week, six high school students will participate in an all-female conference at Argonne National Laboratory.
"I'm trying to push the science piece with our girls as well," Nelson said, noting that the process to participate in the Argonne conference was selective. "They will have some hands-on opportunities at Argonne National Laboratory to work with females in science and technology positions."
Nelson said the shift to get more girls involved in STEM classes and careers is slowing gaining momentum, especially with the addition of classes within the new industrial technology department at RCHS.
"It's shifting slowing, and with this new group of high school students coming in, our 9th graders that have seen this program now which is new, I think we're going to see an increase in the number of girls that we see in those programs," Nelson said.
Nelson said the increase in STEM education and access to folks in STEM careers is a necessary step for introducing students to post-graduation career possibilities.
"The career opportunities are really expanding in the science and technology fields," Nelson said. "So, for our kids to understand what the opportunities are is really important. Especially when they get to high school, the courses that they take will help them in that direction... It's really just to let our kids know what is out there, and really right in our backyard."
Nelson said that for parents, it's not just about making sure their students are talking math and science classes. STEM careers need well-rounded individuals, which means that electives and arts are also an important part of the system.
"It was interesting, what the engineers were talking about, in addition to taking a lot of science and math course, obviously, they also said take art classes, which help with the design process and the problem-solving process," Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the district will consider expanding curriculum options for students, especially in AP and dual credit courses.
"We're looking to expand some of those dual credit opportunities that we have with JJC," Nelson said. "We're talking with JJC about some other delivery models, where we may - and nothing is set yet - but we'd like to create some opportunities for students to actually take courses at JJC or have some visiting adjunct professors come here to work with our students. All of that is still in the infancy stages."
More information on the district's STEM program can be found through the district's website, at www.rc255.net/Pages/STEM.aspx.