Last updated: April 01. 2014 5:44PM - 1743 Views
By - dbroyles@civitasmedia.com

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DOBSON — Surry County teachers and local businesses are learning from each other as the system’s “STEMmersion” program enfolds through educators learning about local businesses.

“A major goal of the strategic plan for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Surry County Schools is to connect classroom instruction to business and industry needs,” said Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction Jill Reinhardt. “In order to do so, Surry STEMmersion provides teachers the opportunity to spend time in local businesses learning how science, technology, engineering, and math are applied in real-world, authentic situations.”

Information from Reinhardt and Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Scott indicates the project plan includes 35 teachers who will spend two days each in a local business, seeing first-hand the relationship between content and careers.

The teachers will also collaborate with other colleagues in “externship” planning afterwards. Reinhardt said this planning will focus solely on knowledge gained from the externships and tied to the development of project-based leaning units.

According to Reinhardt, 11 teachers from Gentry Middle School have been involved in externships through the University-School Teacher Education Partnership (USTEP) grant. Plans call for 40 more county educators from grades k-12 being involved in local business externships from one to two days a week beginning in June.

“These externships are funded through the Surry County Schools Educational Foundation,” Reinhardt said. “They realized the need for teachers to learn outside of their classrooms from businesses so they can apply this in their classes.”

She said the program is also an opportunity for a business to promote its purpose, to help support education, and to recruit employees. Reinhardt said another benefit of the partnership is students are better prepared to enter the future workforce with the right skill sets. Participants’ reflections on the programs will be gathered throughout the externships and will be used this summer as the lessons learned are translated into new curriculum.

Reinhardt said one one example of this STEMmersion program was held on March 28 where 15 teachers learned about creating electricity and how it gets to homes. The effort was hosted by the Surry-Yadkins Electric Membership Corp. and the North Carolina Electric Membership Cooperative.

“We want this to become an annual event and continue. We’re trying to make the connections real (for students) and we think this is the best way for teachers to make this happen for students. This is a win-win for business and education,” said Reinhardt. “This is an example of benefits from discovering what we can learn from each other.”

Gentry Project Lead the Way Teacher Karen T. Hodges, whose externship was with the Ottenweller Company Inc., in Mount Airy, feels strongly STEMmersion externships are a crucial way for teachers to find out what business and industry needs from students in terms of experience and knowledge.

She explained measuring skills with rulers and calipers taught to her middle school students were validated as she saw similar processes at the metal fabrication firm.

“I feel like this is a way we can continue to get students ready to go into the workforce,” Hodges said. “When I came back and told students what I’d done and talked about the processes some actually said that sounded like a place they would like to work. In the past this is an opportunity not offered on the middle school level. We are trying to prepare them with STEM and 21st century skills which also benefit industry. They have to know what’s out there.”

She said she found the design and investigative procedures she teaches in class are similar to those in industry and students learn design is ongoing and is never finished.

Gentry sixth grade math teacher Wendy Sawyers’ externship was at Austin Enclosures in Yadkinville. She was heartened to find the three-dimensional shaping by the firm meshed well with her classroom activities. She plans on placing “work orders” with students to design and build nets to meet the customer’s request. If it is not what the customer wants they must start over again.

“I had a great day there. It went fabulous,” said Sawyers. “I got to put on the steel toe shoes and safety glasses and the workers showed me what they do.”

“We have to engage and interest students in the classroom,” Hodges said. “We have to give them hope in what they want to do in the future by what they are taking in school.”

David Broyles may be reached a 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.

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