Rural schools in the United States face challenges many of their suburban counterparts couldn’t fathom. For example, access to challenging and engaging STEM courses such as robotics and coding is not as prevalent in rural schools as it is in larger districts. But one district is aiming to make it easier for students to access robotics in rural schools.
“Out of the Loop,” a 2018 report from The National School Boards Association Center for Public Education, notes that “rural students have significantly less access to STEM-focused AP courses” and that gaps such as this “may indicate that rural students have limited access to academically rigorous programs.”
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One rural district in North Dakota is fighting this statistic with a K-12 STEAM program that prepares students for the future by teaching 21st-century skills necessary in today’s–and tomorrow’s–workforce.
Alexander, North Dakota, epitomizes small-town America. A 2017 estimate puts the population at 308, and the Alexander Public School serves around 260 K-12 students. Seeing a need to instill future workforce skills in their students, the district implemented their K-12 STEAM program, which includes coding and robotics, about five years ago. Superintendent Leslie Bieber attended a conference and had the opportunity to learn to program robots. When she returned, she worked with former robotics team coach Alexandria Brummond, who at the time was the school’s second-grade teacher. “The program developed over the years,” says Bieber, eventually including a TETRIX class, which then became a FIRST Tech Challenge class and team.