Industry professionals offer Aurora STEM students chance to grow

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AURORA | Prairie Middle School will be enlisting some outside help in the coming months to further bolster the school’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum.

Prairie was one of just four middle schools in the state selected earlier this month by the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) — a research and development partner of the Colorado Department of Education — to take part in a pilot project that blends STEM learning with knowledge from industry professionals. The pilot will place local professionals from Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin in local classrooms to develop student projects based on “industry-designed challenges,” in coordination with Cherry Creek School District teachers.

As many as 100 Prairie students are expected to participate in the program, according to the Cherry Creek website.

On top of impacting students at Prairie, the school’s Science Coordinator Jeff Cazier said the program’s secondary goal is to provide additional professional development for CCSD staffers.

“I want teachers to see what STEM skills look like outside of their classroom walls and see STEM skills being used by real-world professionals,” he said in a statement. “It’s fantastic that our students will have the ability to become involved in learning that has connections to the world outside of education by having access to a STEM professional.”

About 45 schools used an online form to apply for the new program, which is wholly funded by Lockheed and Boeing, according to Melissa Reeves, spokeswoman for CEI.

Prairie will join Hamilton Middle School and Denver Green School in Denver Public Schools, as well as Horace Mann Middle School with the Colorado Springs School District, in the pilot program.

“This is a unique opportunity for students to understand what aerospace engineers do on the job, and mentoring the students offers Boeing employees a chance to give back to the community,” David Eddy, Colorado site director for Boeing, said in a statement. “As engineers, we use the same problem-solving techniques and teamwork we are teaching the students.

“Engaging (students) in hands-on learning and critical thinking will help them succeed,” he added. “I hope students will be excited about STEM and become future engineers and scientists.”

The University of Northern Colorado will be analyzing several aspects of the pilot project to measure the impact of partnerships between private industry and schools, according to Angela Baber, STEM director with CEI.

“We’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t as we begin to build these types of partner models that widen our state’s talent pipeline to support our STEM workforce,” she said in a statement.

Mentors will be visiting local classrooms throughout the upcoming spring semester.