Integrated STEM Program at Portage High School

Guest post by Robin Kvalo

Portage High School in Portage, WI, introduced a new STEM manufacturing program for selected sophomores this 2016-17 school year. The major highlight of the program is that the students will take English, math, and science credits in the technology education and engineering labs. The core classes are integrated with technology education projects and our new “Enterprise,” our in-house manufacturing business experience. Core content teachers share classroom space with technology educators, teaming up for academic success for these individual students.

Structure of the STEM program

The daily schedule for the program consists of normal coursework throughout the morning. In the afternoon, students are in the STEM manufacturing area where they will take their English, science, and math classes. At the end of the day, students utilize resource time to work on individual employability certificates as well as the “Enterprise.”

The English portion of the STEM program revolves around communication needed both in the workplace and the “Enterprise” business that the students will develop. For example, students create procedure sheets, résumés, work orders, and a variety of documentation used in industry every day. Moreover, local business and industry professionals are available to conduct mock interviews with the students. Although the English portion of the STEM program is not team-taught, a technology educator is available for collaboration during this time.

The math portion is delivered with both a technical education instructor and a math teacher. The math curriculum centers around both machine tooling math and other concepts needed in the manufacturing “Enterprise” experience.

The students’ last class of the day is the physical science portion of the STEM program. The instructors reinforce the physical science standards that students will need in both technical school and the trades. Many of the science standards are reinforced by classroom labs and then applied in the “Enterprise” extension of the program. The science portion of the program is team-taught by a science and technology education teacher.

Why offer a new STEM program at Portage High School?

The answer is twofold. First and foremost, we saw a need for a specific population of students. Certain students have found success in our technical education department, but have not found the same success in their core classes. Therefore, by exposing the students to direct connections to the trades and manufacturing, we believe that students will find motivation and understanding to succeed in all content areas. As a result, confidence grows within the students and a sense of the big picture starts to emerge.

Secondly, our school district wants to continue to build partnerships with our community and local industry as part of its five-year strategic plan. Our STEM teachers have talked to local businesses and manufacturers. We have heard the concerns with regard to what skill sets the current new employee base is lacking. As a result, we wanted to bridge that gap and help teach the skills that will lead to individual successes in the workforce. With this model, individuals will be able to earn specific workforce/trade certifications and youth apprenticeship opportunities along the way.

We are confident the “Enterprise” model is a step in the right direction to meet the needs of some of our students and address the lack of skilled employees in the current market. By allowing these students to be a part of something bigger than themselves and having the opportunity to develop the skills that current employers are looking for in a manufacturing setting, the stage is set for kids to continue to find success in a career they choose.

Could a STEM manufacturing program and “Enterprise” model motivate your students and help them gain the skills they need to enter the workforce?

Robin Kvalo is the principal of Portage High School in Portage, WI. She is the 2016 Wisconsin Secondary Principal of the Year.

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