Thanks to a collective community effort, Memphis Community Schools is now able to provide opportunities for students who thrive on a hands-on learning style as well as those who want to focus more on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with the opening of their Project-based Learning STEM and Career Lab.
“Several of our grantmaking committees were very proud to support Memphis Schools and their major investment into STEM opportunities for their students,” said Community Foundation Board Chair Hale Walker. “This is a game changer for the district and will give students in the western part of our county access to CAD, CNC machining, and so many other valuable skills and opportunities that they otherwise would not have in school.”
The PBL STEM and Career Lab is the brainchild of Memphis Community Schools Superintendent Sara Dobbelaer, and the project received grants totaling $40,000 from the Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), Women’s Initiative, and Grants Committee, as well as assistance from the Four County Community Foundation, L&L Products, and a Michigan 98c Learning Loss grant.
The idea behind the lab, said Dobbelaer, is to create an environment in which students who don’t have as much success with traditional learning methods can thrive. Putting students with different learning styles into the same structure over and over and expecting a different result was not an appropriate way to approach education.
“It’s not the kids who are failing, it’s the structure that is failing,” she said.
She wanted to create an environment that would allow the students to learn in a way that suits them – offering meaningful and relevant hands-on learning that fits within the state standards for education.
The Community Foundation’s YAC President Amara Makim said the project was a perfect fit for the committee’s focus on projects that will benefit youth, and the grant request came at the perfect time.
“At the beginning of last year, our group decided that one of our main priority areas was going to be school life. We really wanted to focus our resources on programs that gave kids access to pathways for careers in trade, college, career readiness, and life skills,” said Makim. “There was definitely a lot of discussion within our group when we were deciding whether or not to approve the grant and how much to give, but in the end, we voted to grant the $20,000 because of the amount of kids this grant would impact and the opportunities that would be created for traditionally underserved or at-risk students. It’s not every day that we get the opportunity to help with such huge projects like this. We were super happy to contribute to this program that is going to be a really big deal for Memphis Schools.”
The lab will be focusing initially on a small group of 21 at-risk students who have been selected based on their learning needs. It will also be offered as an elective for students who want to pursue more STEM-based skills. It will be like triage, said Dobbelaer, starting with the kids who need it the most, and then expanding the sphere of influence to include more.
“It’s something that I am very passionate about,” she said. “There’s a place for your college-bound kids in that lab and there’s a place for skilled trades-bound kids.”
The lab currently contains five 3D printers, two computer numerical control (CNC) machines, one laser engraver, one vinyl cutter, and one T-shirt press.
Ten members of the staff have been trained on all the equipment and this fall, one of the staff facilitators is going to attend a national training. After that, they will be able to offer CNC, 3D printer, and laser engraver certification for students, so they can graduate with an industry-recognized certification.
She said they are hoping to expand the lab every year, but she’s a firm believer in starting with an intentional and strategic launch to set the foundation for the future.
“I’m incredibly grateful and thankful for all the support,” said Dobbelaer. “I feel like we’re all in this together.”
The Community Foundation’s YAC is looking for some new members to experience the joy of making a difference in the community. Click here to learn more about what it takes. In addition, there are always opportunities to donate toward projects like this through a variety of funds. Learn more about those opportunities here.