December 18, 2017

BFEE District Innovation Grant Expands STEM Opportunities for BPS101 Students

During the 2016-17 school year, the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence (BFEE) approved the creation of a “District Innovation Grant.” The purpose of this grant was to invest a percentage of BFEE’s annual resources in a larger project that would impact students throughout the District.

Fast forward to the 2017-18 school year where BFEE approved a District Innovation Grant to increase students’ interest in STEM education, particularly girls.

“In Batavia, we see gaps in the percent of females taking advantage of STEM options at the middle school, and the gap continues to widen in high school, especially in the engineering track,” said BPS101 Chief Academic Officer Dr. Brad Newkirk. “The problem of female students not accessing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities is not unique to Batavia. National research studies at both the K-12 and university levels indicate that this is a national issue, and the gap is widening due to the increased need in the workforce for professionals with STEM skills.”

At a November BFEE board meeting, Dr. Newkirk, outlined a long-term strategy to get more students, particularly females, interested in STEM education at BPS101. The strategy includes a focus on core curriculum, the student learning environment, and student experiences.

Dr. Newkirk said the immediate focus of the BFEE District Innovation Grant would be to build off the work that BFEE has already started with previous grants for STEM-related education and provide more STEM-related experiences for elementary students.

Ready, Set, Go!

The BPS101 Curriculum and Instruction Department has hit the ground running with BFEE’s District Innovation Grant.

  • Two free STEM Enrichment Courses for third- and fifth-grade girls are launching this winter and a third is planned for fourth-grade girls this spring.
  • The Curriculum and Instruction Dept. is working with BPS101 teachers and past BFEE grant recipients at all levels to identify their classroom needs to improve existing STEM-related student experiences.
  • Keva Planks, Magna-Tiles, and Dive into Shapes 2-D and 3-D construction sets have been purchased for kindergarten-level experiences and LRCs.

Today, if you walk into a kindergarten classroom in any BPS101 building, you’ll likely see students creating with their STEM construction sets. And they are utilizing them in many ways.

In Cindy Mieland’s kindergarten classroom at J.B. Nelson Elementary School, students can choose to “Build It” with Keva Planks as one their rotational activities during “Math Centers.” At a “Build It” station, students get to pick from a wall of “building challenge cards” that show a 2D picture of a particular structure (similar to a blueprint) and then they have to create that structure. When they are finished, students use their electronic tablets and the application, Seesaw, to record their experiences.

In Kristine Scheffert’s kindergarten classroom at Alice Gustafson Elementary School, students are currently learning about scientists and engineers and what they do. As part of the exploration of these careers, Mrs. Scheffert is encouraging students to “learn by exploring” in small groups to build structures with their Magna-Tiles, Keva Planks, Dive into Shapes, and other STEM supplies.

“Scientists and engineers build things and use their sense of sight and touch,” she recently explained to her kindergarten students. “I’d like you to use your sense of sight and touch today to build something, too.”

In Missy Beier’s kindergarten classroom at Louise White Elementary School, students were recently challenged with working in small groups to build a large structure, like a farm, with Magna-Tiles and Keva Planks.

Watching the young learners collaborate and problem-solve to build a structure in a team environment is fascinating.

“Over the coming years, we will be examining enrollments in our middle school and high school STEM courses to look for movement in female participation,” said Dr. Newkirk. “We will also be creating action plans and short- and long-term metrics that provide actionable data on our strategies. There is a lot of work for us to do in STEM for all students, but especially our female students. BFEE’s District Innovation Grant gives us a big leap in the right direction.”

For more information about the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence, its educator grants, student scholarships and gift donations, visit