OWATONNA — As the Owatonna school district continues to press deeper into STEM, E-STEM, and STEAM learning, the education of teachers received a significant funding boost courtesy of Eldon Steuernagel, his family, and the ISD 761 Foundation.
Steuernagel taught math in this district from 1953-1985, and he was one of the founders of the 761 Foundation, even serving as secretary from 1992-2003, according to Bruce Paulson, chairman of the 761 Foundation. Following his death in July of 2018, Steuernagel’s family decided to fund STEAM (science, technology, education, art, and math) education for teachers, since Steuernagel was an ardent believer in that method of instruction.
Steuernagel “felt it would be very useful” to staff and students, Paulson said. “STEAM is such a wonderful thing.”
The district is able to spread that money farther and wider than initially expected, said Michelle Krell, director of teaching and learning for Owatonna Public Schools. The preponderance of training this summer for staff at Lincoln and Wilson was actually covered by a grant from the University of Minnesota and St. Catherine University, meaning the Steuernagel money can be earmarked for further training, professional development, and collaboration.
“It really has worked out well,” Krell said. “We know professional development and ongoing support” allow for “us to do some really great things.”
For example, once all elementary staff members are STEM-ready, “we can collaborate across all four” elementary buildings, she said. Furthermore, the Steuernagel donation will allow high school staff members to receive STEM and Career Pathways training beginning in 2020.
This summer’s training at Owatonna Middle School was open to staff members of Lincoln and Wilson, as well as any new teachers to the district, and Owatonna had roughly 50 individuals attend, she said.
Lincoln and Wilson staff members who missed training this summer will have it in 2020.
After meeting multiple times with the Steuernagel family and explaining some of the STEM successes at McKinley and Owatonna Middle School, everyone agreed “we want to bring that to all students in our district,” Krell said.
“Addresses shouldn’t dictate” the education elementary students in Owatonna receive, and those students all filter into the E-STEM middle school before reaching high school.
The skill set of “an Owatonna graduate” ought to include abilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving, she said.
Employers desire those talents in workers, and the mission of a school district is to turn out graduates who can thrive in college, career, and life.
STEM students have “a different mindset,” she said. They have “perseverance and positive growth.”
Owatonna was one of the first districts in Minnesota to move in the STEM direction, and it remains a leader in STEM, STEAM, and E-STEM innovation, according to Dr. Gillian Roehrig, a science education professor at the University of Minnesota who has dedicated herself to studying STEM education, particularly in OPS. In many schools, students have to “get lucky” to get that one STEM teacher, but in Owatonna, STEM is building-wide, and that “cohesion” makes the district special.
“We need to challenge kids,” Krell said.
“How can we create more relevant learning opportunities?”
Funding from sources like the Steuernagel family will allow the district to continue offering STEM, STEAM, and E-STEM opportunities.
The Steuernagel “gift is tremendous to us,” Krell said. “We’re so thankful for their kind generosity.”