McHenry School District 15 to compete for top STEM program in nation

Parkland School named 1 of nation’s leading institutions

For the second year in a row, McHenry School District 15 is being recognized by the Future of Education Technology Conference as having one of the top science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs in the nation. 

This year, Parkland School has been selected as a finalist for the Future of Education Technology Conference STEM Excellence Award.

“We were honored to be recognized nationally last year, and ecstatic to be a finalist again this year,” District 15 Superintendent Alan Hoffman said. “I am confident in saying that District 15 is likely the only school district in the United States to have both middle schools recognized as top STEM schools in the country.”

Parkland was selected as one of three finalists in the middle school category for exemplary work in the areas of STEM, STEAM (STEM plus art) and innovative learning. The school will be competing against Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in the Miami Dade County Public Schools district in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, and St. Pius X School in the Diocese of Covington in Edgewood, Kentucky.

“Our school community at Parkland has worked extremely hard to earn this opportunity to be honored alongside some of the best schools in the country,” said Fred Laudadio, District 15’s executive director for learning and technology. 

Featuring STEM labs, STEAM studios, innovation centers and video production hubs, students at Parkland gain the chance to explore multiple disciplines, including computer programming, robotics and engineering, medical science, musical composition, aviation, broadcasting and more. 

“If you could come and see the kids engaging in these spaces, they just love being there. ... It’s totally hands-on, totally research-based,” District 15 Assistant Superintendent Josh Reitz said. “It’s just a fun place to be in, a fun place to see kids learning. We know it’s good for learning, and we’re so proud that we can offer this for our students.”  

At Parkland, STEM is not offered as an extracurricular, Reitz said.

Rather, STEM is embedded throughout the curriculum, which is something that makes the school stand out, Hoffman said.

With “hundreds and hundreds” of STEM challenges available, students are able to pick what they want to learn, he said.

“I think we’ve done a pretty effective job of making it a centralized thing that we do that connects all of the different facets of balancing literacy, digital literacy and informational literacy,” Hoffman said, “not something that kids go to for an extra 30 or 45 minutes on top of everything, but a part of the day, because technology is ubiquitous. It’s going to be the world that kids grow up in and become used to and become second nature.”

No matter which school children in McHenry attend, students can find a consistent flow of STEM, STEAM and innovative learning curriculum from kindergarten through eighth grade, Hoffman said. The district accomplished this by partnering with area high schools, other districts and McHenry County College. 

“Ultimately, we wanted to not just build a curriculum model, but we wanted to design standard education so that it was infused across the entire school curriculum so that they would apply STEM concepts throughout their learning day,” Hoffman said. 

The FETC STEM Advisory Committee assessed hundreds of national and international applications before narrowing it down to the top three finalists. The applications were evaluated based on the use of interdisciplinary curriculum, collaboration, design, problem-solving and STEM experiences offered to the students and community, according to the district.

The application process included submitting more than 20 essays pertaining to the curriculum and its goals, as well as a video showcasing the effect in the community. 

District 15 was recognized last year for STEM excellence at McHenry Middle School, which was selected as second in the nation by a panel of judges.

The winner of the 2020 FETC STEM Excellence Award will be announced Jan. 17 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Florida.

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