The Van Buren School District has embarked on a new engineering based science program in its elementary schools.

Kindergarten through fifth grade students are participating in Project Lead The Way which provides transformative learning experiences for both students and teachers, according to Julia Cottrell, PLTW coordinator for the school district.

“Project Lead The Way creates an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive,” according to Vince Bertram, chief executive officer and president of Project Lead The Way. “We also provide teachers with the training, resources, and support they need to engage students in real-world learning.”

PLTW is a non-profit organization that develops STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula for use by elementary, middle and high schools.

Bertram said PLTW’s mission is to prepare students for the global economy by providing K-12 STEM programs to public, private, and charter schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in rural, urban, and suburban districts.

“Today’s science class is nothing like when you and I were in school,” Cottrell said. “Computer programming, building compound machines to rescue a wild animal from a moat and building a robot are just a few of the projects our kids will experience this year in Project Lead the Way.”

K - 5th grade students are engaged when they are working on a PLTW module, she said.

“Students are able to think like an engineer beginning in kindergarten,” Cottrell said. “I am so happy to see our students using problem solving skills and working together without being told to.”

She said students identify the problem of the module, think of various solutions, design the solution and build it.

Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat said he has heard nothing but positive comments about Project Lead The Way.

“Everywhere I go, good things are said about the project,” he said. “It was a big investment for the school district, but we knew we needed to develop and expand our STEM programs. It already has been a huge success.”

Jeffcoat said surplus National School Lunch funds were utilized to introduce PLTW.

“Our staff also made the sacrifice to not attend out-of-state professional training to save money,” he said.

Eventually, Jeffcoat said the elementary students will expand into the robotics competition which secondary students currently enjoy.

Cottrell said Project Lead The Way helps student think on their own.

“Students don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work,” Cottrell said. “They simply redesign and try again. Kids beg me to stay in class all day. Science is quickly becoming their favorite part of the day.”