Two Apple Valley High School students work in the fab lab.

ROSEMOUNT, Minn. – Apple Valley High School is one of three finalists vying for the national Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) 2019 STEM Excellence Award in the high school category. Now in its 39thyear, the award recognizes schools’ innovative approaches to implementing science, technology, engineering and math education.

“STEM education is, and will continue to be, an essential component in 21stcentury schools, preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow,” Jennifer Womble, program chair of FETC, said in a press release announcing the finalists. “Delivering excellent STEM programs is all about innovation, and each of the STEM Excellence Award finalists demonstrates the kind of leadership and exemplary programs toward which all schools should strive.”

In 2014, District 196 received nearly $3 million through a federal YouthConnect grant from the U.S. departments of education and labor. The grant allowed Apple Valley High to forge partnerships with local, national and global organizations and implement its E3 STEM program focusing on STEM exploration, education and employment. The program has expanded students’ opportunities in hands-on, real-world learning and provided critical exposure to a STEM career pathway. Most notably, the grant funded the creation of Apple Valley’s fabrication lab, or “fab lab.”

“The fab lab has played a key role in helping us establish our ‘STEM for All’ philosophy by integrating its use into an increasing number of our courses,” said Jim Lynch, E3 STEM program manager. “Learning becomes so much more authentic when students can design and produce products that can be used by others in the real world.”

Because of the fab lab, more students are interested in STEM courses, Lynch said, adding that it serves as a bridge connecting students with varied educational passions. Students in family and consumer sciences courses can design and build furnishings. Students in English courses explore new ways to create promotional and marketing materials. And students in math courses learn about tessellations by creating 3-D prototypes on a laser engraver. Support from the grant also enabled the school to implement a career counseling system that helps students navigate possible college and career options.

Over the last four years, Apple Valley High has become a thriving STEM-focused school, and with the support of the YouthConnect grant, has provided access for all students and increased participation in programs that prepare students for success in the 21stcentury workplace.

“These core STEM skills of communications, creative problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration are critical skills all of our employer partners are telling us they are seeking in future employees,” Lynch said. “With support of our community partners, I see a dramatically enhanced career counseling system that serves all Apple Valley students to help them gain a clearer perspective and plan for their future upon graduation.”

The winners of the 2019 STEM Excellence Awards in the elementary, middle school and high school categories will be announced during the conference in Orlando Jan. 27-30.

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