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With support from a private company, Franklin County students get STEM lessons

This article was originally printed in the North Raleigh News February 6, 2015.

BY MECHELLE HANKERSON 

LOUISBURG — In one corner of the gym at Edward Best Elementary School, students pretended they were birds, picking seeds out of a bowl with a pair of plastic tweezers shaped like a beak.

Across the gym, students played with oobleck, a mixture of corn starch and water that moves like liquid but feels like a solid when it’s balled up.

On Thursday, the Louisburg school hosted its first STEMville night, which provides students with hands-on science, technology, engineering and math activities to support in-class lessons.

Through a partnership with biotechnology company Novozymes, every elementary and middle school in Franklin County will have a STEMville Family Night, which also incorporates UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

“In today’s workforce and economy, science, math, engineering, analytical skills are really the way of the future,” said Novozymes Americas President Adam Monroe. “Science and math isn’t just for scientists and engineers anymore.”

Lisa Schaur’s son, Jaden, is a third-grader at Edward Best. Schaur said it’s important for Jaden to attend events such as STEMville because sometimes important lessons aren’t offered during the regular school day.

“There isn’t much,” Schaur said. “There are occasions, but I don’t hear about it as much.”

With a limited budget, some say it’s tough for the Franklin County school system to provide extra activities for students and their families. So it’s helpful when private companies, like Novozymes, which has offices in Franklin County, step in to fill a gap.

“Rural counties like Franklin, they don’t have the same access to these kind of science and other sorts of educational programs that you do when you get closer to Raleigh,” Monroe said.

Novozymes is spending $10,000 for the STEMville programs. Most of the costs are associated with the planetarium.

On Thursday, planetarium staff brought a bus to Edward Best. Students learned all about scabs, making fake scabs on their skin using lipstick and corn syrup.

Money isn’t the only barrier to accessing special programs. Geography also poses a problem, said Edward Best principal Geoffrey Hawthorne.

“Being in a rural community, the challenge is also distance,” he said. “There’s not a lot of local businesses to partner with.”

Bringing in outside organizations is an option, Hawthorne said, but it’s hard when most of those groups are based in Raleigh, about 40 miles from his school.

He said STEMville is a good fit for Franklin County students.

“It’s something that meets them here,” Hawthorne said.