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David DeMuth, back, right, executive director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center, prepares students at Jamestown Middle School for an interactive broadcast from a pair of scientists studying dark matter at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, located 4,850 feet underground near Leeds, S.D. David Luessen / The Sun

Project in development: It is aimed at growing local workforce to meet industry demands

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A project is in development in Jamestown that is aimed at growing a workforce of students at Jamestown Public Schools who can meet the industrial demands companies will have in the near future as the city grows.

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Holly Miller, director of marketing and workforce for the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., JPS Superintendent Rob Lech and Valley City State University professor David DeMuth are seeking to implement a combination of professional development for teachers and curriculum for students based on STEM (science, technology, mathematics and engineering) teaching practices.

“I got everybody together and said, ‘I want to get STEM into the schools here because that’s really going to kick start our workforce (development),’” Miller said.

DeMuth, who is also executive director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center, said STEM is vital for students not only to be viable in the global employment market, but to staff the companies that Jamestown is looking to attract in the future, such as internet-technology companies and industries that require engineering expertise. At a presentation for students at Jamestown Middle School Wednesday, he said that sparking their interest in early grades is important.

“These youngsters here are at the perfect age to know about what research scientists are,” DeMuth said. “I walked into a classroom earlier today and one of the girls said to me, ‘you don’t look like I thought; I thought you were going to have a white coat on and a beard.’ That’s exactly the stereotype we’ve had and that’s exactly the stereotype we’d like to break, because science is a blast.

“Math is a blast, some of us just haven’t spun it in the right direction to where it motivates this age of students, and it’s this age that’s critically important.”

In its first year, the program would focus on the second- and fourth-grade classes at the elementary schools. The eight teachers from each grade would attend workshops during the summer and implement STEM teaching practices and curriculum into the classroom this fall.

Lech said funding options are being explored now, but a likely $25,000 grant from Monsanto Corp. will hopefully be awarded this summer. He said the district, which faces an $800,000 deficit this year and a $1.8 million deficit next year, is not looking at adding additional costs to its budget.

“Really a lot of it is about teaching practice and integration of STEM and once you develop that professionally, we’re hopeful that just becomes integrated into the curriculum,” Lech said. “We’re not able to put a lot of local dollars in because we just aren’t in a place financially where we can do that, but we will look at other grant opportunities.”

Miller, who will speak with DeMuth at the North Dakota STEM Learning Network’s Take Roots Summit in Bismarck this weekend, said she plans to look into more funding options in the coming weeks.

“I’m going to get together with DeMuth and build kind of a sponsorship-type option where local industry can help support some of the curriculum and possibly some after-school programs and things like that,” she said.

DeMuth said the specifics of the program’s first year will depend on what grants are awarded. If funding is available, it will begin this summer. The project will expand to include grades 2-5 in its second year, grade six in its third, and gradually up through the high school over the coming years.

Lech said he hesitated to say it is a “new curriculum.”

“STEM activities shouldn’t be something that’s viewed as additional to what we’re doing; it really is replacing what we’re doing with more hands-on activities,” Lech said. “The concepts of STEM aren’t new to teaching. The focus on them is certainly new, having hands-on activities in classrooms isn’t a new concept, but it’s just a way to reinforce those STEM techniques, and those STEM ideologies into the classroom practice is more of the focus now.”

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at dluessen@jamestownsun.com

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