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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 09 2012

Hoeven tours, praises STEM Center in West Fargo

WEST FARGO – More science and math centers could be created if the next federal education law gives states and school districts freedom to decide how to spend their share of funding, Sen. John Hoeven said Tuesday.

“You can’t have a federal one-size-fits-all program,” the North Dakota Republican said during a tour of West Fargo School District’s middle school STEM Center. “What they’re doing in Chicago and New York may not work here.”

Hoeven is a co-sponsor of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a possible replacement for No Child Left Behind that he said would use a block-grant system to encourage innovation and let local leaders decide where funds need to be spent.

Hoeven called the 250-student STEM Center “a great example” of what he hopes the ESEA can fund. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Who knows best? The federal government or these teachers right here? And the answer is obvious: these great teachers,” he said.

The STEM Center was originally created as an enrollment safety valve for Cheney Middle School, which was busting at the seams due to the school district’s fast growth. But the program has proven so popular students get their spots in a lottery system.

The STEM Center has partnerships with North Dakota State University, North Dakota State College of Science, Rasmussen Business College and area businesses, including Microsoft, Sanford Health, John Deere, Moore Engineering and others, Principal Michelle Weber said.

“I know some people have issues with using the real world, but just really having students be engaged in the learning process and seeing how it is connected to the world of work” is important, Weber said. What they learn “certainly prepares them, almost like a pipeline for a future career.”

Hoeven said he encourages all of the region’s tech-oriented firms to make that “interface with education.”

“We’re driving innovation for this country. And it starts with young people learning these skills – sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade and younger,” he said.

Hoeven later toured the construction sites for Sheyenne High School and Liberty Middle School and visited Freedom Elementary, which opened this fall.

He also met with Andrea Noonan, an eighth-grade teacher at Cheney Middle School, who is the state’s 2013 teacher of the year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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