The Mount Laurel School District has received a $15,000 grant from the Sallie Mae Fund to expand its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiative to sixth-grade students next year.
“We are ecstatic to receive this news,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Antoinette Rath said. “We started our STEM program last year at grades five, seven and eight. The Sallie Mae Fund grant will allow us to extend this exciting educational opportunity to our sixth-graders next year also.
“Utilizing Lego MindStorm Robotics, Mount Laurel’s sixth-graders will experience mechanical design, construction, programming and teamwork skills in the new curriculum. Students will build robots and program them via computer to move, react and make sounds to solve challenges.
“Local, regional, national and international robotics competitions will allow students to test their products and their knowledge in a wider arena.”
The Sallie Mae Fund is a charitable organization sponsored by Sallie Mae. Its mission — to increase college access for America’s students — is achieved by supporting programs and initiatives that help open doors to higher education.
The fund supports communities where Sallie Mae employees live and work, and has contributed more than $123 million in grants since its inception.
“It is well documented that students exposed to engineering and computer sciences at an early age are more likely to follow this track throughout high school and pursue STEM-based college degrees,” Rath said. “Since the inception of our program last year, we have witnessed tremendous interest on the part of students.
“Offering four years of STEM education prior to high school gives our students the added exposure necessary to compete in the workforce of the future. This expansion would not have been possible without the generosity of the Sallie Mae Fund. We are very grateful.”
Rath said STEM’s integrated approach to have students look at science combined is preferable to learning about topics in isolation.
“So, it’s a pretty cool program for kids,” she said. “I’m very excited because when students can learn first hand how to apply, that opens up a whole new world — science right now holds the key to our world.
“We have a lot of challenges that we’re facing as a society: climate issues, clean water issues, food issues.”
Rath said STEM makes programs applicable, hands on and fun.
“Kids can see it working to solve real life problems,” she said. Science isn’t just for nerds anymore. It has become a very popular subject in our district for both girls and boys which is astounding.”
The superintendent said STEM is a very popular course with high student participation rates.
She also said Mount Laurel’s math and science scores are relatively high compared to state averages.
“We are seeing a lot of success,” Rath said. “I hope the future of this program promotes youngsters to look at science as a field of inquiry and I hope students move forward in the process so that they go into high school and college understanding the value and importance of science, of math, of technology, of engineering.”