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STEM program working: JPS elementary teacher says more grades to be added

A program to help children grasp science using visual and hands-on activities was touted by an instructor at the Jamestown Public School Board meeting on Monday.

Mari Stilwell, a reading coach at Roosevelt Elementary School, updated the School Board about a $25,000 Monsanto grant to fund a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grant pilot project for second- and fourth-graders. She said a second $25,000 grant application to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction would fund materials and train teachers to add third and fifth grades.

“It is exciting and the kids attracted to it and the teachers are supporting it,” she said. “This is really something to get excited about.”

The project combines science, engineering and reading in a more hands-on way to engage young learners, using the “Picture-Perfect Science Lessons” series from the National Science Teachers Association Press, Stilwell said. The pilot project succeeded in getting more students to grasp concepts in physical and life sciences and gets kids more engaged in STEM activities, she said.

The Picture Perfect science lessons are a way to integrate storybooks and picture books into science curriculum, she said. Combined with Engineering In Education kits, Stilwell said the children are more engaged and excited, which helps them to apply problem-solving skills.

“For kids with behavior issues, they were best behaved during this process,” she said.

Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Robert Lech said the program succeeds in connecting kids to the standards in a different way. Kids at that level of understanding learn more by doing than hearing, and just need a facilitated program that works in meeting the needs of 21st century learners.

“This is making connections and engaging students in a way that is so positive,” Lech said. “We really see students connecting to the material in way other than rote memorization of facts, and really take in and apply and synthesize information.”

The teachers are trained in the Great Plains Stem Education Center through Valley City State University, he said.

Enrollment reports for the 2015-2016 school year noted there are 115 students from Jamestown going to other school districts. There are 56 students from other districts attending Jamestown schools. Twenty-six families optioned to homeschool 60 children.

“Home education students have the opportunity to participate in school activities and extracurricular activities according to the (North Dakota) Century Code,” Lech said. “There are combinations of situations we support some families should they desire to choose to opportunities provided in music or higher level math.”

A survey of 2015 Jamestown High School graduates shows that as of May, 72 students (53.7 percent) are attending college or university; 32 (23.9 percent) are attending vocational and technical school; 1 (0.8 percent) is serving full time in the U.S. armed forces; 20 (14.9 percent) are employed and not attending school; and 9 (6.7 percent) are undecided.

Jerred Steiger, president of the Jamestown High School Student Council, reported that the council is currently exploring fundraising strategies to make up a budget shortfall from the previous year. He said the previous council merged two accounts, one with funds and one that was delinquent, and currently has a $1,900 deficit.

The council earned about $600 in proceeds from the homecoming dance alone, he said, and the council is aiming to save more money by not sending board members to national conventions unless they can fundraise the money.

In the superintendent’s report, Lech said the annual school board retreat to follow the Oct. 8 board meeting in the middle school Central Office conference room at 5:30 p.m. would include a referendum debriefing, school vehicle discussions, a budget overview and a possible ex-officio student representative on the School Board.

In other actions the School Board approved no-cost tuition agreements for four Jamestown students to attend Pingree-Buchanan, Montpelier and Wishek public schools for the 2015-2016 school year.

Sun reporter Tom LaVenture can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at