At the outset, I ask that you share this letter with all of the faculty and staff at the STEM Center. I would also appreciate it if you shared it with the STEM family. I will be sharing it with the West Fargo School District Superintendent, Dr. David Flowers, and the North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kirsten Baesler.
As you are aware, yesterday was my daughter Cheyenne’s last day at the STEM Center. It is difficult to believe that three years have passed since she began her journey there. I often reminded her over those years when she shared her adoration for her school, teachers, and classmates that initially she had reservations about going to the STEM Center instead of Cheney Middle School. This is one of the few things in life that I can get her to acknowledge publicly that I was right about. I knew all along it would be a great experience for Cheyenne, but I never fully appreciated the magnitude of the impact these three years would have on her and me.
The girl I dropped off at the doors on that first day of sixth grade was quiet, pensive, and a consummate rule follower. She was a good student, but didn’t really yet believe in her own power to craft solutions to problems. She was bright within the confines of her learning experience in elementary school, but the STEM Center was a brave new world. At the STEM Center she became the architect of her own learning environment – an environment that was without the learning confines that put discrete knowledge for different subjects in independent boxes. At the STEM Center teaching and learning flowed in and out of different areas and the power of education was actualized at its highest level.
Cheyenne worked hard during her middle school years. I marveled again and again at the sheer amount of work product she completed and the glee with which she completed it. I learned early on that the fuel for the level of student engagement at the STEM Center was a series of great teaching teams who believed in their students’ ability. The students researched problems, designed solutions, tested their solutions, and reported their successes and failures using an integrated curriculum that gave them an opportunity to immerse themselves in different topical areas. They were allowed the freedom to innovate and the power to create…they were allowed to spread their wings and test them in a safe place until they could fly. But none of them really flew – instead, they all soared.
In Cheyenne’s three years in the STEM Center she worked with teaching teams that challenged her to expand beyond her comfort zone. As a result, Cheyenne became braver, more astute, and increased her confidence exponentially. She sees the world and her ability to create change in it differently – she has become a force to be reckoned with because she knows her potential.
That is what the STEM Center gave to Cheyenne. It wasn’t just a middle school with great teachers and a different way of educating kids – it was a game changer for every student who had the opportunity to go there. I can say unequivocally that these past three years changed the trajectory of Cheyenne’s life. I am so very grateful for the education Cheyenne received at the STEM Center.
Alas, the impact of the STEM Center didn’t stop with Cheyenne. It affected me as well, just like it affected so many other STEM parents. When the ceiling melts away for your child and you see their potential realized in ways that you marvel at, you cannot help but become a convert. And a convert I am. I believe in the power of creating a different kind of thinker that embraces 21st Century skills and in my work at the university I am empowered to foster that kind of thinking. Indeed, it was my experience with the STEM Center that propelled my interest in fostering more expansive innovation in thought, teaching, problem solving, and research at the university and resulted in my role in a new innovation initiative. Hence, the power of the STEM Center has reached beyond the walls of the school and beyond the expanses of the students’ minds – it has created a ripple effect of change through those who have observed the power of 21st Century thinkers.
I firmly believe that every student in North Dakota deserves the same educational opportunity that Cheyenne and her fellow students received. The STEM Center served as a model of what education can and should be. You can rest assured that I will never stop talking about the power of the education Cheyenne received at the STEM Center, nor will I rest until all the other children in the state receive the same fabulous opportunity to learn at their highest level.
Thank you Michelle for all you’ve done for the kids, for your team, and for the families of STEM-ers. You fostered a wonderland and gave all the inspired educators at the STEM Center the freedom they needed to truly change kids’ lives. For what you have done for my child and me, I am forever in your debt. For what you have the potential to do for thousands of others, I am forever in your corner. Keep going – you are doing it right!
Day one thousand four hundred and sixteen of the new forty – obla di obla da