Farmers help school districts land STEM grants

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 3, 2017 9:40 am

MONROE CITY, Mo. -- Farmers in Monroe and Ralls counties helped their local school districts secure $10,000 grants to advance the schools' STEM programs.

STEM is a shorthand term that encompasses the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Monroe City R-1 and Ralls County R-II school districts were two of 12 rural school districts in Missouri to receive the America's Farmers Grow Rural Education grants.

"There were more than 30 farmers who advocated on our behalf for us to receive this grant," Monroe City Superintendent Tracy Bottoms said. "This money is invaluable to us. We can't move forward and give our students more STEM opportunities without this."

Ralls County Superintendent Tara Lewis agreed.

"We had about five farming families who helped us," Lewis said. "It's a significant amount that we've received, and we're excited to have been selected through the competitive process."

America's Farmers Grow Rural Education began in 2011 to help farmers contribute to their communities. The grants of either $10,000 or $25,000 are used to help rural students receive the STEM education they need to understand or work in the STEM fields, the organization's website says. The grants are used to buy or upgrade technology, enhance scientific laboratories, develop curriculum, and fund STEM-related projects.

Monroe City will use the grant to buy STEM curriculum from Project Lead the Way for grades 5 through 8, and Ralls County will use the money to buy software and temperature-monitoring equipment.

The grant has allowed both school districts to begin building a STEM program in their schools.

"We had a basic introduction to the program last year, and we have great projects we want to do, but chemicals and other items all cost money," Bottoms said. "This money will let kids see what science looks like from a hands-on process."

As part of Project Lead the Way, middle school and junior high school students tackle challenges such as designing tires for a moon rover, cleaning up an oil spill, building digital animations, or designing a car seat belt.

At Ralls County R-II, Lewis said the new equipment will be the start of the district's first STEM program. High school students will primarily use the equipment, but she envisions them showing younger students what can be done with the equipment and thus excite younger students about STEM activities.

Lewis and Bottoms said they are fortunate to have an active agricultural community in their counties.

"There is a huge push for STEM education," Bottoms explained. "If you don't have the money to fund STEM activities, then you can't do them."