MFL MarMac receives $25K STEM BEST Program award

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council recently announced MFL MarMac Community School District as one of the 22 STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) Program models for 2021. The program brings together schools and businesses to create STEM learning experiences that prepare students for exciting, in-demand careers. With the addition of 22 awards, 80 programs have been created since STEM BEST launched in 2014. 


The STEM Best Program supports school-business partnerships that allow teachers and industry professionals to work side-by-side on curriculum and projects that give students actual workplace experience. In the projects, students also gain an understanding of the opportunities and required skills for careers in STEM fields.


MFL MarMac Teacher Librarian and Instructional Coach Melissa Haberichter will lead the program, which hopes to provide students with authentic learning experiences. 


“Authentic learning includes student-directed tasks using authentic skills and resources to provide a deliverable product or service to an authentic audience,” explained Haberichter. 


For example, a business pitches a project it wants help with to a student or group of students. Students propose a solution, often including timelines, budgets or processes. The business partner gives feedback and the student makes changes until they agree on the course of action. Then the student(s) enact the plan and see it to completion.


As part of the grant, Haberichter reached out to several businesses in the area to gauge their interest in participating. She received unanimous support from everyone she spoke with and plans to work with any and all businesses in the future. 


“There are also opportunities for our students to work with businesses outside our area. There is an online clearinghouse where businesses can post projects for students to work on as well,” Haberichter added.


Another focus of the STEM BEST program is to provide real-world opportunities for students exploring options for the future. Haberichter will help educate students and families on opportunities for jobs/careers, help find contacts and/or mentors and provide experiences.


“It could be a one-time experience or a conversation with a person in the industry,” she said, “or it could be ‘working’ alongside someone in a business for several weeks or a semester to learn.”


In addition, there are plans to allow students to pitch passion projects of their own to potential partners so they can see some of their own ideas realized. 


“Again, it will follow the idea of a proposal with timelines, budget and feasibility, and then the student looks to business and industry people with whom to partner,” said Haberichter.


To be considered for a STEM BEST Program award, applicants were required to submit a comprehensive proposal that incorporates rigorous and relevant STEM curriculum, valuable partnerships with community businesses or organizations, real-world learning opportunities and expertise at the post-secondary education and training level.


In its proposal, MFL MarMac noted the area encompassing the school district is a destination for travelers, but often struggles with the mindset that there are limited opportunities to live, work and be successful. Some of the brightest students leave the area. 


“We have many economic opportunities in the manufacturing, agricultural, telecommunications, financial, healthcare and tourism industries, but many of our employers report skills are lacking in our current workforce,” the proposal stated. 


The STEM BEST Program could help with this.


“We believe we have the makings of success. Our school board has been studying and asking for more project based learning and STEM activities in our school,” the proposal continued. “The program will serve as a catalyst for attracting businesses to our area because they will appreciate the talents and skills of our available labor force as well as the growth-mindset approach to the education of our youth.”


The STEM BEST Program includes a $25,000 grant award for MFL MarMac. Funding can be used for curriculum development and coordination, educator training and development in workplace-classroom integration and preparing the work-based learning environment.


According to the proposal, the MFL MarMac School Board has committed a $25,000 match that includes salaries, professional development, technology, equipment and space redesign. 


“MFL MarMac will creatively combine the unique experiences of the program coordinator, the generous layout of our existing facilities and the knowledge and spirit of our greater community to provide students with authentic workplace experiences,” said the proposal.


Haberichter said the program will launch this spring.


“This fall will be used to meet with business partners and a visioning committee. The visioning process will take ideas and hopes from stakeholders—business owners, families, students—and come up with the best direction for the program,” she shared. “I’m also assembling a team of teachers to visit a few other schools this fall to see what models they are using. Different schools have different models and I’m not exactly sure what ours will eventually look like.”

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