STEM education growing in Marshalltown

November has been a big month for Marshalltown Schools. On Nov. 18 we welcomed Gov. Terry Branstad to Marshalltown High School and the opening of our new Project Lead The Way classrooms. It was a great event showcasing the tremendous community support for not just PLTW, but for schools in general.

Just one week later, on Nov. 25, we marked another milestone with the Roundhouse renovation groundbreaking. It won’t be long before the community will see the work moving forward as we strive to make the facility the envy of the state.

These two high profile events certainly deserve a lot of attention and praise for many reasons. Both are the result of years of behind-the-scenes planning, collaborative thinking and community support. Both are also symbols of larger movements in Marshalltown Schools and in the greater community to improve not just the quality of education, but also the quality of the facilities in which students learn.

Project Lead The Way is the nation’s leading STEM curriculum. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a major focus at the state level these days, and for good reason. Trends show many new jobs are in STEM fields and employers – especially many in Marshalltown – are clamoring for intelligent, skilled adults ready for STEM-related work.

Project Lead The Way is only one part of STEM education. In many ways it’s the capstone to a K-12 focus to improve STEM programming to prepare students for success after high school. To see some of these other STEM programs in action you don’t have to look far. In fact, if you stayed after the PLTW ribbon cutting Nov. 18 you only had to walk down the hall. That same night the school hosted a STEM Carnival. It was organized by Science Bound, a program with Iowa State University focused on encouraging minorities and women to pursue STEM careers. The halls were bustling with Science Bound students from MHS putting on demonstrations for elementary and middle school students. Various high school STEM-related academic departments were also on hand, as well as students in the Extended Learning Program. By walking just a few feet visitors could learn about Envirothon, then dual credit courses, then see a demonstration on soil erosion.

STEM activities and education are going on at all levels, from Gateway to Technology at Miller Middle School (the foundation of Project Lead The Way) to work on curriculum at the K-6 levels like grades 5-8 partnership with the North Central Hub of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. There are also great partnerships with higher education to bring not just college courses, but college students into our schools. At Rogers Elementary, for example, students from the ISU Program for Women in Science and Engineering visited the Family Learning Center recently to lead students and families in an activity engineering and crafting paper trees.

These are just some of the examples of how STEM is a focus in Marshalltown. The community support for Project Lead The Way and other STEM initiatives is so great this is really just the beginning.

Jason Staker is communications director for the Marshalltown Community School District.