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Foundation raising money for 'Gateway'

Oct. 17, 2012

The Elmbrook Education Foundation is throwing its support behind an initiative to boost the district's technical education capabilities.

The foundation announced its support of the implementation of the Gateway to Technology program at both middle schools to more directly connect to the high school Project Lead the Way Lead curriculum for its STEM offerings in science, technology engineering and math.

Foundation Executive Director Laura Schmidt said the intent is to raise $156,000 for acquiring software, adding and upgrading computer labs, and training teachers.

Schmidt said the initiative falls into the foundation's expanded role from meeting specific program needs to providing support across the district. Gateway to Technology will help middle school students learn STEM fundamentals.

"We have Project Lead the Way in the high schools, which is an elective," Schmidt said, "but if you haven't been touched yet by those experiences, you may not know to take those classes or whether you have the aptitude for them."

Learning early

Educators say it is important to emphasize technical studies because they provide students with the opportunity to develop creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and skills in information and media.

Middle school principals Robyn Martino of Wisconsin Hills and Mike Sereno of Pilgrim Park said they welcome the Gateway to Technology initiative.

"The whole concept is a nice integrated approach to learning," Martino said. "This fills a gap and will enhance our students' preparation for high school."

"Currently, we don't go as far as we could in linking science and math to technology," Sereno said. "There is a national shortage of engineers and this hopefully will help address developing more students who want to go into those fields."

High school view

Anthony Christian, Brookfield Central's Project Lead the Way instructor, said a stronger middle school tech program should pump up enrollment in his class. Four years ago, 20 students enrolled. It is now up to 135 annually.

"The students in the district are very bright," Christian said. "They are learning the concepts of science and math, but they get to apply it here. The kids who are here, love it. It's a great idea to extend this instruction to the middle schools because they will be better prepared to come into this program.

"We have such a skills gap in our county and in our country," Christian said. "We need to meet the need of manufacturing somehow."

Christian said technical education has finally grown out of a previous notion that careers would be undesirable. Technical, manufacturing field jobs, he said, were considered "dirty, dumb and dark," mislabeled by today's standards.

"Tech jobs are filled with mathematicians, engineers and others who are working in a variety of industries," he said. "They are doing quite well. We need to prepare students not only for the classic four-year college degree but also for other post-graduate programs."

Partnership advantage

Superintendent Mark Hansen said the extension of a tech link from middle to high school is "a natural next step" in the district's efforts to provide a well-rounded education for all students.

"The partnership between the district and the EEF has been very strong," Hansen said. "Gateway to Technology is another example of that relationship."

Position highlights

In its position paper on its website, the foundation points to the emergence of the Gateway to Technology program in area districts such as Waukesha, Pewaukee, Hamilton/Sussex, Kettle Moraine, Mequon Thiensville, Cedarburg and New Berlin.

"Elmbrook students achieve at very high levels," the report stated. "This is illustrated by the outstanding test results our students receive on large-scale measures such as the ACT. However, when we examine how many students who take the ACT score at a level that demonstrates college readiness in the area of science (biology), only 60 percent met the college readiness benchmark in 2012."

The report also indicated that a stronger tech program beginning earlier than high school would help address a "significant underrepresentation of female students seeking STEM-related college degrees and entering STEM-related professional fields."

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