ANSELMO-MERNA— Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have been a part of school systems across the country for many years, but some schools, like Anselmo-Merna Public School (A-M), are taking it one step further.
“We started in the fall of 2018 asking the really broad question, ‘how do we best prepare Anselmo-Merna graduates for the next phase in life?’ For some kids that is college and for some kids that is the workforce,” said A-M Superintendent Dr. Logan Lightfoot.
Through this question, the Anselmo-Merna Achieves STEM Success (AMASS) project was created. Dr. Lightfoot, and those directly involved with the project, felt if they were able to start kids young in learning robotics, students would develop a higher level of problem-solving ability which they could use in the high school for more hands-on projects and learning. It also allows students who might have an interest in STEM to be equipped not only with the book knowledge, but equipment as well.
Dr. Lightfoot said, “Custer County is a great resource with a lot of opportunity. Our biggest problem in the area, and as a county, is we lack the skilled workforce right now.”
After talking with area businesses, those involved with AMASS realized that the region and Custer County was coming up short in the area of STEM. Because of this shortage, the group felt it was absolutely necessary to create a lab at the school to serve kids and start them early.
With an outline of the plan created, the question of money remained: Would the A-M School Board support such an undertaking?
“When you build anything like this there is a huge expense associated with it,” said Dr. Lightfoot. “I will give a lot of credit to our board on this because it was presented to the board and they saw the worth and they saw the value to the kids in our community and they really didn’t bat an eye at it.”
After gaining the support of the school district, the next step included gathering grants to help pay for the equipment. With thousands of dollars on the line, A-M went right to work applying for grants.
“There is a lot of grant money out there for STEM,” said Dr. Lightfoot.
To date, the school has secured a $12,500 grant from Farm Credit Services of America and a $15,000 grant from the Bayer Fund made possible thanks to area farmers and ranchers.
The grant from Bayer Fund was awarded to A-M after local farmers and ranchers nominated the school for the $15,000 grant, which will help purchase the equipment for the lab.
“The backbone of our school district is agriculture and agribusiness and to have farmers and ranchers stand up and advocate for our school to say we need this and this is a worthy cause, speaks volumes of our community support,” said Dr. Lightfoot.
While the lab is still in the early phases of being put together, equipment such as a plasma cutter, plotter cutter, robotics equipment, and more have been purchased for the lab. Dr. Lightfoot noted the burden will not fall on the shoulders of tax payers when it comes to paying for the equipment. He said the administration continues to look for more grants to help with costs associated with the lab.
A-M Skilled and Technical Sciences (STS) Instructor Jason Reed said being able to teach kids how to use the equipment with a hands-on approach, can show students opportunities for the future.
While the equipment is still on the way, Mr. Reed said that he expects there will be more engagement from students with the addition of the lab.
“We will definitely get to that point,” said Mr. Reed. “When we got shut down last year we were just starting to get things put in and implemented and now we’re getting things fired back up and implemented. We’ve had the 3-D printer for a little while now but we just never were able to get it going once school got shut down.”
Mr. Reed also said that the elementary STEM lab will be a great way to bridge the elementary and high school. He hopes to be able to have some of the high school kids mentor the younger kids on the robotics equipment and 3-D printer.
“They have the opportunity to do some really neat things,” said Mr. Reed.
As the STEM lab continues to come together, students like A-M Senior Emmalee Bartak, have been a big part in building parts of the lab that will help with storage and mobility. Emmalee has spent the last year building the robotics storage table using locks, wheels, and plenty of workspace for the robotics pieces.
“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to [build the table]. It is something I can always say I know how to do this, let’s try it,” Emmalee said.
Seth Chandler, who is also a Senior at A-M, has had his focus on the 3-D printer which is one of two pieces of equipment currently in the STEM lab. Using the printer, he and classmates were able to print 4-wheeler brake handles of different material to help understand what the printer can make as well as how to use the software properly. Seth noted that he is already thinking about the positive impact the printer could have on the ag community.
“You can make many things with it. My dad had struggles finding parts for a fertilizer pump and maybe you could make it with that [3-D printer],” said Seth.
While the two seniors, Emmalee and Seth, will not be able to experience the full STEM lab for an entire year, Junior Carter Johnson and Sophomore Zane Druery are looking forward to the opportunities.
When talking about the lab and the advantage A-M students would have, Carter said, “It’s going to open a whole new window into the workforce. You will have more opportunities to learn before you go to college. You will have an upper step on some people at college.”
With the thousands of dollars being invested into the students and the school, Zane acknowledged the support from the school district was something that you might not get everywhere.
“It shows that they [Anselmo-Merna School District] want us to be successful and they are trying to give us as many different opportunities as they can,” said Zane.
Technology is already a daily part of life, but with constant advances, sometimes rural communities can be left behind. Dr. Lightfoot said he wants students to be as prepared and successful as possible when they leave Anselmo-Merna and the STEM lab is the perfect place to start.
“When I think about the skills these kids are going to gain-with all of the technology-that doesn’t just stop with farming and ranching,” said Dr. Lightfoot. “That really gets into our way of life and gets into how our families make their money and their livelihoods. If we can prepare those future farmers and future ranchers for more success with agriculture, I think that is a big feather in our cap.”