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41 Rural School Districts To Expand STEM Teacher Training With Missouri S&T Grant

School robotics competitions like this one at Missouri S&T in 2016 can help students develop an interest in STEM fields. 3/15/16
Sam O'Keefe | Missouri S&T
School robotics competitions like this one at Missouri S&T in 2016 can help students develop an interest in STEM fields.

ROLLA — Rural Missouri school districts short on money sometimes struggle with teaching the three R's, so the idea of adding advanced science and technology instruction can be daunting.

A $250,000 state grant through Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla is helping 41 school districts in 10 counties in south-central Missouri bolster their offerings.

The $10,000 and $20,000 grants aren’t enough to overhaul a curriculum. But they are enough to train existing teachers to teach things like robotics and engineering. 

David Russell, superintendent of the kindergarten through eighth grade Success School District in Texas County, said investing in current teachers is a good use of money in an area where recruiting math and science teachers is difficult.

“I think there is a real benefit to bringing teachers in and training them up to meet the expectations and needs of the students that are in the area,” Russell said. “Teaching them then, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), is much easier than finding somebody that is already trained up in the curriculum.”

Russell also said buying equipment for an after-school robotics club is helping serve students while not taking away class time from fundamental courses. 

“What the extended program will do is give us more time in the afternoon. Kids really like this type of instruction,” Russell said. “They are interested in things that are hands-on, where there is engineering and opportunities to create robotics.”

The grants and their resulting programs are part of Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit organization working to expand interest in science and engineering in elementary and high schools.

Dave Hosick, who coordinates Project Lead the Way efforts at Missouri S&T, said the goal is to make sure students in rural school districts have the opportunity to see themselves in a STEM career and give them the path to get there.

“If they don’t see STEM in a way that it might be a profession or a helping journey early in their academic career, they have a tendency to migrate off that and look to do something else,” Hosick said.

Another goal for Missouri S&T is to expand the potential pool of students who may enroll in the university.

“We want all students in the state, regardless of if they are from a city, a suburb or a rural area, to have the opportunity to come to S&T and pursue a career in science or engineering,” Hosick said. “Where they come from shouldn’t be a barrier to that.”

The districts that have already received money through the program are Ava, Bakersfield, Bunker, Cabool, Clearwater, Eminence, Glenwood, Hartville, Houston, Howell Valley, Mansfield, Mountain Grove, Norwood, Plato, Success, Thayer and West Plains.

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Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.