Dot Foods launches Focus on STEM program for 12 West-Central Illinois school districts


Nathan Theis and Shannon Smith of Beardstown attended the first Focus on STEM training session, which was led by LEGO Education Professional Development. | Photo courtesy of Dot Foods

MOUNT STERLING, Ill. — Dot Foods recently launched Focus on STEM, a program designed to give west-central Illinois school districts the tools and education needed to create science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. 

STEM occupations include computer programming, architecture and engineering, life and physical science occupations, as well as the related managerial, sales, and postsecondary teaching careers. Nearly 10 million workers were in STEM occupations in the U.S. in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that demand is expected to grow two times faster than the total for all other occupations by 2031. 

Dot wants to make sure west-central Illinois graduates are ready for these jobs, across the country and at Dot Foods.

Dot’s charitable group spent a year researching how it could best support STEM education in the surrounding districts. The resounding response from area schools was the need for funding to buy supplies as well as access to STEM education training for their teachers.

In response, Dot developed its Focus on STEM program to provide those essentials for schools to build their own STEM programs, including an initial investment of approximately $50,000 in grants as the program launched this spring — with $100,000 in grants slated for the 2023-24 school year alone.

Dot launched the program in conjunction with the Learning Technology Center of Illinois (LTC), a statewide program that supports all public K-12 districts, schools and educators through technology initiatives, services and professional learning opportunities. Dot is working with LTC to facilitate five teacher training sessions and will provide grants to participating school districts to help them develop their STEM programs.

The districts participating in the first the Focus on STEM education event are St. Peter, Quincy; Pikeland CUSD 10; Central CUSD 3; Beardstown High School; St. Mary School, Mount Sterling; Payson Seymour High School; Griggsville-Perry Elementary and High School; Brown County Middle School; Meredosia-Chambersburg High School; Franklin; and Dallas City.

In a press release, Suzy Parn, director of Dot’s charitable corporate committee, said, “We knew we wanted to help local schools launch programs, and from the research we conducted, we learned that STEM education can mean different things to different schools. Some schools may plan to build dedicated STEM classrooms, and others might offer one STEM class. This program will give districts the tools they need to figure out what a STEM program means for them and what fits within their district plans and goals.”

LEGO Education Professional Development led the first training session on May 25. A certified LEGO education trainer helped teachers build confidence and competence as they learned, practiced and mastered competencies that support playful, hands-on STEM learning with maximum impact on student outcomes.  The interactive session demonstrated how LEGO can bring computer science learning to the classroom. Through this system, students learn to work collaboratively and solve problems creatively, all while “playing” with a familiar set of tools that are easy to manage.

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