The First Steps
Marion Community School District in Marion, Indiana has slowly been building up STEM programs throughout their schools with the intent of creating opportunities for students, connecting current programs with science and technology resources, and improving their curriculum. It has been a process of finding and securing funding, mapping out paths forward, and trying out various methods of teaching, training, and more.
The district has a goal of becoming entirely STEM certified in coming years. Currently, there are five schools in the district that have gained Woz ED Pathway Status. They are just beginning their journey with Woz ED. Having had a few STEM related courses and offerings available before becoming acquainted with Woz ED, Marion Community School District is ready to dive deeper.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Lockwood, along with two district principals: Heather Rumple from Justice Intermediate School and Rianne Aguilar from Frances Slocum Elementary. These incredible women walked me through what STEM programming looks like within Marion Community, from the district level to the school level.
The main goal for the district is to make sure that their intention lines up with their action. That intention is to create an all inclusive program that allows each child to flourish, while building up skills that will aid them in the future. Last summer, the district held its first ever summer camp using Woz ED Animation and Drone Kits. Students were so excited about drones that the local Hobby Lobby sold out of their drone stock. Parents of Marion students were buying them for their kids to use at home. The district took this as a sign to secure more STEM resources as soon as possible.
STEM certification has become a noteworthy distinction within the state of Indiana. Several grants have been created in the state within the last few years relating directly to STEM and computer science education. Marion has taken advantage of these and been awarded a handful of grants that have helped fund and support their programming efforts. These include a grant for ‘’employability skills,” a STEM coterie grant, and a computer science grant.
As the district began to access funds and support from grants, they were on the lookout for STEM resources that would fit in with the goals outlined with each grant, and also enhance experiences for their student body. Stephanie learned about Woz ED from another partner organization and, after surveying the curriculum, support, and technology provided by Woz, she (along with other district leaders) decided it was a good fit. She is happy to admit that they were right about this.
She tells me,
“Woz ED afforded us an opportunity as a support staff to look at what we want to do with STEM and decide where we want to go and what opportunities we are able to give to students.”
Marion, similar to other districts, is taking a “go for the gusto and see what happens” mentality, as Lockwood puts it. The implementation of Woz ED curriculum has been largely up to the principals and administrative teams at each school. This way, everyone is trying something different, seeing what works for different ages and types of learners. When they come together, they discuss what’s working and what needs to change.
Different Styles and Great Excitement
Rianne Aguilar and Heather Rumple each emphasized the pure excitement that students have been buzzing with in recent months, especially with the introduction of Drones and 3D printers. Rumple tells me that many of her students are convinced that they should 3D print everything they see at Justice Intermediate School. They want to print models of lockers and basketball hoops and desks. Aguilar says that when entering the gym at Frances Slocum, it’s important to “watch your head” because students are flying drones everywhere.
Project Lead the Way curriculum has been in the rotation for a few years now in many school districts in Indiana. This is where the computer science and engineering courses have lived for many schools in Marion, including Justice Intermediate and Frances Slocum Elementary. At Justice Intermediate, they have begun using Woz ED resources within these courses as well. Fifth graders have a STEM course that they take weekly for a quarter, while sixth graders have this course for a full semester. Additionally, a civic engagement course at the intermediate level is required for the state of Indiana. The school has tied Woz ED cybersecurity and engineering pathways into this course.
One area that Heather Rumple has seen STEM take hold is within Justice Intermediate’s special education department. SPED teachers are using the kits with their students. They have found that many of these students are thriving whilst using Drones and Robots. Rumple has seen a newfound confidence with this population of students especially.
Rianne Aguilar agrees with this. At Frances Slocum, SPED teachers are also utilizing kits. She says,
“It has leveled the playing field, we’ve been able to be more inclusive and find some interests for kids that hadn’t found any interest in academics before. Woz ED has provided a purpose for what we are doing.”
She shares her experience as a mother of a child with special needs. She has seen her son take hold of STEM concepts and connect with his brothers and peers over flying drones or using 3D printers. This is true for other students as well.
Aguilar notes that her STEM teacher has been a fantastic addition to the team, always making connections between STEM concepts, other subjects, and events in the community. The kids are always asking her when they can go back to STEM class. At each of the schools in the district, they are making sure that they don’t bite off more than they can chew. They are starting small, training some teachers, implementing lessons here and there. This will allow a streamlined vision to come about. She notes the importance of “continuation” and how Woz ED has allowed them to start teaching concepts that will connect to existing programs at higher levels.
The What The How The Why
With the success of the last summer camp, Frances Slocum is looking to implement a STEM summer camp featuring more pathways like Cybersecurity and AR/VR. They would have the students attend STEM camp after standards testing as a reward for hard work. At Justice Intermediate, they are looking to connect more subjects to STEM kits and find the best way to implement them within and outside of the school day. On a district level, the vision is to creatively implement programs and find the best ways to reach the most students. These are just a few examples of the big dreams the district has for the future of its students, teachers, and community.
There are a lot of professional industries surrounding the area that require skills which Marion students are learning such as engineering, aviation, and coding. This is a huge opportunity for the district to take action and prepare their students for careers that will provide security and exploration.
So far, Marion Community School District, as represented by Stephanie Lockwood, has learned that the largest contributors to their success thus far have been finding a wonderful staff of teachers and administrators willing to learn and dedicated to student success, as well as having the support of partner organizations like Woz ED.
When asked what motivates these women, all three seasoned educational professionals agreed that the most straightforward answer is “for the students.” No educator is in the business for themselves. All three of them are from Marion and they all want to give back to their community. Lockwood tells me that it’s their job to afford all students an opportunity to be the best they can be and to help them get there. Rumple adds that not every student has the same advantages and you can’t control what your circumstances are, but education can provide an equal opportunity for every student to succeed. Aguilar echos that and says,
“Everybody needs somebody. We all had that person that believed in us. Every child deserves to have someone that does this for them as well.”