Hands-on learning: United Way, Novelis partner with Madison County Schools on STEM opportunity

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Madison County Elementary students will soon get a boost in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) instruction thanks to a new partnership with United Way, Novelis and Madison County Schools.

On Monday, Novelis awarded a $35,000 grant to United Way of the Bluegrass. The grant money will be used to support STEM initiatives in local elementary schools.

"This is a great opportunity for our students and teachers," said Elmer Thomas, superintendent of Madison County Schools. "Our teachers do a wonderful job every single day of reaching out to our kids and keeping them engaged with STEM instruction. But this grant money will provide our teachers with more resources which will great benefit our kids."

Thomas said the United Way plans to use a portion of the funds to purchase LEGO robotics kits for each elementary school.

The superintendent said the kits, and other resources, will help provide students with a chance to apply STEM learning to hands-on activities.

"The possibilities (with these kits) are endless and allow kids to tap into their imagination and get their minds flowing while they are working with their hands," Thomas said.

Research has shown that kids retain more information and have better recall when they partake in hands-on learning, the superintendent added.

David Gilliam, chief academic officer for Madison County Schools, said if the students take a great interest in the robotics kits, the district might propose a robotics competition each year for elementary students.

"We think the students would really enjoy that and it would give them a great opportunity to really dive into their learning. They will also have a chance to test what they have learned and compete against others," Gilliam said.

Monica Johnson, human resources leader for Novelis, said the company was looking for a way to give back to its local community and help pave the way for future engineers and scientists.

"As we move forward with this partnership our goal is to invest in future generations by encouraging the development of engineers and scientist through supporting math and science education," Johnson said. "Through our research, we have learned that there is a declining interest in science and math for all students and specifically female students. Novelis strongly believes that in order to increase interest we must build a foundation at the elementary level which this grant will address. We are confident that STEM is the future for a brighter America."

Johnson said the company, in addition to the grant, will be providing Novelis engineers to Madison County teachers and schools to serve as resources.

"We are thrilled to have access to such a vast wealth of knowledge," Gilliam said of the partnership. "Novelis engineers will be a valuable resource to our teachers and help craft engaging and fun lesson plans and assignments for our students."

Bill Farmer, president and CEO of United Way of the Bluegrass, said the organization has a long tradition of working with companies on community outreach projects.


"We are so happy to be a part of this partnership," Farmer said. "We all are committed to working hard and impacting our community in a meaningful way."

Farmer said the United Way has found the best way to combat poverty and effect lasting change is through education.

"Several years ago, we did a lot of research into how we could encourage families to be more self-sufficient and reduce long-term poverty. Education was at the the core. We found that if we could provide more opportunities for people to become engaged in academically challenging areas, like science and math, the better chance at success," Farmer said.

The United Way of the Bluegrass CEO said many community members from impoverished backgrounds shy away from science and math as it seems to difficult to master.

"It is programs like this one that can change their minds," Farmer said. "They find that science, engineering and math can be fun. Learning can be enjoyable and as they can confidence, we see students start performing at higher levels."

Thomas said the school system was proud to partner with both the United Way and Novelis.

"We are all working together for good and our students and community are going to reap the benefits of this great partnership," he said.