Employers and educators believe studying science, technology, engineering and math can propel kids to productive, lifelong careers.
With that ideal in mind a program known as STEM has emerged nationwide and is now taking hold in Wauwatosa.
STEM expansion proposed
On Feb. 13 the Wauwatosa School Board listened to a proposal to expand STEM within the school district. In addition to Wauwatosa STEM (W-Stem), which shares a building with Wilson Elementary, there are STEM-related courses that reside within both middle schools and high schools. If the expansion is approved, the plan is to place an additional school within Underwood Elementary School (U-Stem).
The Wilson and W-Stem principal Michael Heun led off the presentation to the board regarding potential expansion. Heun and his "STEM team" cited the fact that there is currently a wait list for Wauwatosa elementary students who wish to participate in the program. When you add in what the team said was a great deal of parent and student excitement, expansion seems inevitable.
The STEM team is made up of teachers and administrators of the W-Stem program that began in Wauwatosa public schools seven years ago. The team said that for the 2016-17 school year they received 122 applicants for 22 available seats. The kids who make up the W-Stem program come from elementary schools throughout the district and program administrators believe expansion of the program is important to give more students a chance to become involved.
Private schools embrace STEM
Private schools in Wauwatosa, such as Our Redeemer School, have recently added a STEM program and have seen it grow quickly. Program director and teacher David Williamson, who runs the STEM classes at Our Redeemer, said kids who struggle in classes that focus on written work come to his classroom and excel.
"We challenge the students not to be satisfied with a single solution," Williamson said. "From the beginning the students in our classroom have learned to make mistakes without getting down on themselves."
Included in the assets at Williamson's disposal are a 3-D printer, green screen, rocket launcher and robot platforms. He said the school's STEM program plans to purchase a drone and use the 3-D printer and the robotic platform to develop software and a robotic arm and then drop eggs from different elevations.
Mary Irish, Our Redeemer's director of school relations, said the STEM program has helped to elevate the level of student success.
"We have been named the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School," Irish said. "It is not only the kids' success but their future. We like to say we are preparing the kids for jobs that don't even exist yet."
Help with funding
STEM Forward is a Milwaukee-based organization that works to put local companies together with schools to assist with funding and secure assets to be used in the classroom. They have worked with companies like GE Healthcare and Briggs & Stratton that are giving financial support to STEM programs. The companies work with both STEM Forward and the schools to secure needed money to help create future employees.
“GE Healthcare supports STEM Forward and STEM educational programs because these skills are critical to our future economy and a digital industrial world," said Tom Westrick, chief quality officer at GE Healthcare. "The programs engage students in fun ways which opens their minds to STEM learning."
In the attempt to inspire kids to become a future workforce, STEM Forward cites several studies that indicate the importance of STEM for future growth.
"Today's students are the technology experts of tomorrow," STEM Forward Communications & Program Coordinator Chantel Kuczmarski said. "We look to promote and inspire students to pursue a career in STEM courses."