Lakeview Public Schools was one of 176 school districts in 35 states to be selected to receive a 2012 Monsanto Growing Rural Education grant. The district was awarded a total of $10,000.
"I'm thankful to the area farmers who nominated our school," Lakeview Superintendent Chris Fenske said. "We certainly appreciate that we were selected for the award, which we intend to put to good use. Ultimately, the students are the real winners."
Prior to the varsity girls volleyball match on Tuesday, Fenske accepted the grant award on behalf of Lakeview Public Schools. Fenske submitted the grant application, which focused on providing students an opportunity for 21st century learning across math, science, engineering and agriculture curriculums in March. Grants are awarded based on merit, need and community support.
"The funds will be used for staff development and purchasing of Vernier Probeware," Fenske said. "This equipment allows students hands-on learning opportunities in real world application settings, like soil testing, working with electrical currents and working with velocities. It's exciting."
Currently, a single device is used within small groups of Lakeview students. But with the grant award, Fenske said, each student will likely have an individual probe for research.
"The grant allows us to purchase more of the equipment," he said. "For the students, it's a hands-on learning experience. They get to do their own sampling rather than just hear about it."
Teachers are currently in the process of researching some of the sensors that they might be interested in using in their classrooms, Fenske said.
"You can do pretty much anything with them," he said. "Teachers can use the different probes and sensors in their specific area, whether it's math, science, engineering or agriculture."
In addition to the equipment, Fenske said, training is also part of the grant package. As of now, a Vernier Probeware is planning to send a representative out to train the instructors.
"Teachers have to learn how to use the new technology and then how to implement it into the classroom," Fenske said. "Right now, we're using it a little bit in science, but we plan to expand it to math, engineering, agriculture and into the elementary levels."
In-house training would be the most cost-effective, Fenske said, so the hope is for that to pan out in the near future. Currently, an Oct. 10 meeting is scheduled, after which a plan of action will be developed. While district administrators have until the end of the school year to purchase the equipment and conduct the training, the quicker students can get started with the hands-on experimenting, the better, Fenske said.
"The focus is on learning 21st century skills," he said. "It will allow the kids to collect and analyze data and work collaboratively. They'll also have to communicate about the analyzed results, whether it's a lab report or a presentation. It's an exciting opportunity."
The America's Farmers Grow Rural Education program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, is expected to invest $2.3 million in rural schools across the United States during the 2012-13 school year.
"School districts were innovative and creative in their applications," Monsanto Fund President Deborah Patterson said in a news release. "We are really looking forward to seeing the proposals come to fruition and learning how the students benefit from them."
The grant process is initiated by nominations from area farmers, Fenske said. Schools of their choice are then eligible to apply for the Monsanto grant opportunity. After finalists are chosen by math and science teachers from ineligible school districts, an advisory council, made up of a group of 26 prominent farmers from across the country, then review the finalists' applications and select the winners.
"This is the first time we've received the Monsanto grant," Fenske said. "We've tried in the past. It's based on your region. Only one application per region is awarded."
Lakeview Public Schools is one of eight Minnesota districts to receive an award of up to $25,000 this year. Other 2012 grant winners include Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Schools, Farmington Area Public Schools, Glacial Hills Elementary, Greenbush-Middle River School District, Lancaster Public School District, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva School District and United South Central Independent School District 2134.
The America's Farmers Grow Rural Education program has expanded since its successful pilot in Minnesota and Illinois in 2011, in which farmers were allowed to nominate public school districts in 165 eligible counties in those two states. Approximately 11,000 farmers nominated their area schools last year, resulting in 16 districts receiving more than $266,000.
Now, the program reaches out to 1,245 eligible counties in 39 states. It's a way, organizers said, that farmers can positively impact their communities and support local schools in rural districts, ultimately providing support to the 14 million students in rural America.
"The America's Farmers Grow Rural Education program is a way to help school districts with some of their unmet needs," Patterson said. "We are proud to support our educational system and help grow the next generation."