A number of special guests, including Gov. Mike Parson, were on hand Wednesday afternoon as California Elementary School unveiled a brand new STEM education SmartLab — the first in the state of Missouri.
Joining Parson were Missouri Rep. Sara Walsh, Creative Learning Systems representatives including CEO Ashley Mathis, representatives with the E. M. Burger Foundation, and a healthy crowd of students, teachers and administrators with California Schools. CES SmartLab Facilitator Mazie Osman and Parson helped cut the ribbon on the space in its first public unveiling as the school year continues to get underway.
In his remarks at the event, Parson underscored the importance of extending access to STEM learning in education across the state, commending California Schools for working with Colorado-based Creative Learning Systems in the private sector to bring the program to California.
Parson also stressed how advantageous it will be for elementary students to get such training early in their lives.
"For all these kids that are in the room, it's nothing but opportunity," Parson said. "And what they do with it, who knows, but you're going to give them the opportunity right here and it'll be interesting someday to see what they all do and how they move everybody's lives forward in those next generations. This is the kind of education we need to do, and we need to continue doing this at a fast pace."
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SmartLabs have been installed at schools in many states across the country, but California holds the distinction of being the first in the state of Missouri with a fully-integrated learning environment geared toward STEM education. The spaces allow for elementary and secondary students to engage in a wide variety of hands-on activities that help develop proficiency in areas like mechanics and structures, software engineering, robotics, circuitry, sustainability, and digital communication.
Parson said the kind of learning emphasized in a space like a SmartLab will be crucial for California's students, as more and more students in Missouri and elsewhere travel down a path toward careers that don't necessarily require a traditional four-year university degree. Parson said this is the base level for preparing the "workforce of tomorrow," which will need to be proficient in STEM topics to get sufficient training at the next level post-high school, be it a community college or a technical school.
"Technology's changing every day, and what these young kids see out there today will be totally different by the time they get up and use that education to make it better for the people of our state and the people of this nation," Parson said. "For that to happen in California, Missouri, to be able to lay the foundation for this to spread, it's a pretty fortunate day for California to be able to be here and have the private sector involved with this to move forward."
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Some of the student projects on display at the ribbon cutting through just the first couple weeks of the semester included creations built with Knex, which informational posters explained helped students to explore STEM concepts, practice critical-thinking skills, and exercise their imaginations and creativity.
Students have already been responding very positively to the learning environment, Osman said at the event Wednesday.
"Seeing the kids' excitement just two and a half weeks into school, these kids are asking their teachers every day, 'Do I get to go to the SmartLab today?'" Osman said. "I think kids are excited about school and the things they get to do in school. The first day that they each came in, they were greeted with a drone out in the hallway, so that really caught their attention."
Osman said as the year continues, her students will be doing a wide variety of activities, from 3-D printing and robotics to designing their own video games.
"These students are preparing for a workforce that none of us adults could even fathom," CES Principal Gary Baker said Wednesday. "The majority of the jobs that the kids that are sitting up here (will do) haven't been created yet. We strive to have college and career-ready kids in education. To prepare them for that type of lifestyle, to prepare them for their future, we have to pick up our game, and this is one of our first steps."