STEM centers, maker space coming to Oklahoma City schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A new emphasis on STEM education in Oklahoma City arrived in a flurry of paint and power tools.

Preparations are underway to open centers for STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in local schools and a maker space next door to Mark Twain Elementary.

More than 100 volunteers from Devon Energy and Home Depot turned out at Mark Twain recently to set up the school's STEM center and an applied learning building on the same block.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation helped create the vision for the project as it works with Oklahoma City Public Schools to install a STEM center in every elementary — 33 in total.

Though STEM centers are in the works for many local schools, the separate maker space is one of a kind in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma nonprofit Engage Learning will run the maker space as a center for applied STEM learning, Executive Director Bart Keeton said.

"It's difficult and expensive to pull something like this off, but I think the impact could be pretty profound," Keeton said. "We find that the empowerment that the students take away is pretty monumental."

The Engage Learning center will be equipped with its own staff and basic manufacturing and engineering tools, including a state-of-the-art laser cutter.

The maker space is dedicated to Mark Twain students during the school year, but the building could open to middle and high school students over the summer for organized STEM projects, Keeton told The Oklahoman.

"This kind of 'I can do it' mentality is what we try to create a context for," he said. "We don't do (the work) for them. We let them make lots of mistakes. Learning to come back from those mistakes is incredibly important to us."

The learning center also creates the opportunity for parents to participate in classes with their children, said Joe Rossow, executive vice president of operations for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.

Rossow said the foundation hopes to establish more maker spaces in the Oklahoma City school district and in other states. Incorporating adults creates a unique "school-to-home connection" for student learning.

"You only have the kids so many hours in the educational day; now, we can bring the parents in," Rossow said. "I think it's a very real-world way to make sure it's tied into the educational environment and making sure we keep STEM equitable and accessible to all kids."

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr. founded the organization with his brother, Billy, in their father's honor. The organization uses sports and education as a means to reach at-risk children nationwide.

The Mark Twain STEM center, the maker space and a new Kiwanis facility will create a hub for the surrounding neighborhood when they all open on the same block, Rossow said.

Home Depot employees from across Oklahoma converted an old Kiwanis facility into the future home of the Engage Learning center. Volunteers clad in orange gave the building a makeover by painting the exterior and conducting demolition work inside.

Smart Start Central Oklahoma will house its own STEM area in the new Kiwanis facility, known as the Bob and Jean Harbison Education Center, for children age 3 and under.

At Mark Twain, Devon volunteers set up the new STEM area in the library media center. The project is another chapter in Devon's longtime partnership with the school.

Devon employees have volunteered and mentored at Mark Twain for 15 years. Other Oklahoma companies have offered to sponsor similar STEM centers in the school district, said Christina Rehkop, Devon director of community relations.

Mark Twain's STEM center will contain LEGO kits, robots, circuitry applications, computers, iPads and 3D printers.

"So, these STEM centers will be well stocked," Rehkop said. "Thinking outside of the box is really important to us because we want to be better than we were the day before. So, we have to create an environment for students to learn that way, as well."

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Joe Rossow's name.


Information from: The Oklahoman,

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Oklahoman.

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