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Upsala Area Schools awarded $25,000 STEM grant

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Upsala Area Schools awarded $25,000 STEM grant

In early 2019, America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, sponsored by the Bayer Fund, partnered with local farmers to nominate rural schools to award grants to enhance their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. During halftime at Wednesday’s football game in Upsala between USA and the Royalton Royals, a Bayer representative presented a $25,000 check to Upsala Area Schools. Pictured are (from left): Bayer representative Spencer Richardson, agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Gretchen Schleper and technology teacher/coordinator and robotics team adviser Curtis Robertson.

Grant from ‘Farmers Grow Rural Education’

    When Upsala High School teachers Gretchen Schleper and Curtis Robertson received news that the school district was the winner of a $25,000 grant, they were beyond ecstatic.

    “When we wrote the grant, we were thinking it was up there, like asking for the stars. The chances of getting it was very slim,” said Schleper, who teaches agriculture and also is the FFA adviser.

    They were presented the $25,000 grant by Bayer representative Spencer Richardson at half time during the football game between USA and the Royalton Royals, Wednesday, Oct. 16.

    The grant the district received from Farmers Grow Rural Education program was sponsored by the Bayer fund. Since the program started in 2011, Bayer has awarded more than $18 million to more than 1,000 school districts nationwide.

    This year, 142 schools across the United States received grants, said Erin Glarner, community outreach coordinator at America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education.

    “The whole reason the program started was because farmers saw a local need to provide resources in the classrooms to better prepare students for agriculture related fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in the future,” she said. “As technology is ever changing and ever growing, especially in the agricultural industry, they wanted to provide those resources in the classrooms to enhance STEM curriculum for students.”

    Glarner said the process begins with local farmers nominating their local public school district for the grant. Farmers have between Jan. 1 and April 1 to submit their nomination.

    The school district is then informed about the nomination and have until April 15 to submit their merit-based grant application of either $10,000 or $25,000.

    Schleper said once she and Robertson realized that most districts were seeking $10,000 grants, they decided to “go big” and ask for $25,000.

    Once America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education has received all of the grant applications, a panel of math and science teachers review them and select a number of finalists.

    “The finalists are then handed over to our Farm Advisory Council Board and they select the winners. Our Board is made up of 30 farmers throughout the country, who have various backgrounds in agriculture,” Glarner said.

    The grant Upsala School District received was used to purchase a water jet.

    “A water jet is similar to a plasma cutter, but the difference is rather than using a lot of electricity and heat is that it uses water. It has a very fine sand particle that is put through a high pressure system that shoots down and erodes glass or metal. It is intense pressure,” Robertson said.

    By learning how to use a water jet to create a variety of projects, students will also widen their knowledge. It will not only benefit them in the future, but also the community as at least one of them is likely to develop their own business.

    “If you have a kid who can do woodworking and welding and all these other computer generated applications, they are super marketable. They can go ahead and get some really high dollar jobs in the area that they otherwise would have to travel to the Twin Cities for,” Schleper said.

    Robertson and Schleper work together to “increase the students’ technology and work-place readiness and to provide students knowledge and application skills of CNC (computer numerical control) using hardware, such as the X-Carve CNC Router, laser engravers, plasma cutters and more.

    Although Robertson and Schleper hoped the district would be awarded the grant, they said they never anticipated it. After all, it is a nationwide program, they said.

    As a result of receiving the grant, they have now made some changes to their curriculum to include water jet cutting, as well.

    Schleper and Robertson said they are very thankful to the farmers who nominated the school district. Without their nomination, it would have been made possible.


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