Tri-Central receives STEM grant

Tri-Central students, from left, Abbie Deckard, Zeke Parton, Nolan Taylor and Zolan Helmerick, participate in a STEM activity that had students program a sphere to move through a course via coding.

Tri-Central middle schoolers build Rube Goldberg machines and water towers, mummify fruit and design tiny homes.

It’s all part of the middle school’s STEM program, taught by Shari DeLong and Jessica Papai. Grants help fund Tri-Central’s STEM lab and give students at the rural school district opportunities that keep pace with those available at bigger schools.

Another grant stands to boost Tri-Central’s STEM offerings even more.

Tri-Central was one of 48 school districts to receive a STEM Integration Grant from the Indiana Department of Education.

The competitive grant, worth $24,900, will go toward new STEM kits, including ones made of Lego bricks. Papai said they hope to secure some virtual reality equipment, too.

“It enhances our already existing STEM lab,” DeLong said.

Coding, collaboration and cooperation are fundamental skills found in any STEM program.

While coding might conjure up images of computers, hackers and steady streams of numbers and letters racing across a screen, it’s an integral skill in many jobs today.

If a machine breaks down at a factory, someone needs to know how to read code and find what went wrong. When the automotive shop runs a diagnostics check on a car, they’re looking at the vehicle’s coding.

“Everything goes back to coding,” Papai said. “It’s a skill our kids are going to have to know.”

Coding is a lesson in problem solving, a hallmark of STEM education.

Tri-Central has received its grant funding and will start ordering materials. Teachers hope STEM kits come in before spring break.

Western School Corporation received a $50,000 STEM Integration Grant.

Some of the funds will go toward a partnership with a consultant that will help the school district work toward STEM certification for the Primary and Intermediate schools.

“We’re feeling it out,” said Nate Schmidt, technology integration specialist. “If we’re ready, we’ll see if we can get ready for next October (to submit for certification).”

STEM certification comes from the IDOE. Schmidt applied for the grant on behalf of Western. He trains staff on new technology.

Grant funds will also afford more Project Lead the Way curriculum. The 10-hour modules build up to a problem-solving project.

A smaller grant went toward 3D printers.

Western launched STEM programming in grades kindergarten through fifth at the start of this year.

The school district is taking up a bottom-up approach with STEM.

“There are some pieces in every building, but we’re trying to beef up the younger grades first,” Schmidt said.

Western hired two STEM teachers before the start of the school year. Students have a STEM class once a week. Schmidt said the classes have been well received so far.

“I think the students are very motivated and excited to go to those classes,” Schmidt said. “I think there is good momentum and good people in the right spots to make an impact with this.”

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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