Both Woodbury and East Ridge high schools have given a large focus to their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses, primarily in the form of the Project Lead the Way curriculum.

Project Lead the Way is an advanced set of courses aimed at preparing high school students for college-level classes and careers in the STEM field.

"There's a high dropout rate in architecture and engineering because students going into those programs don't really have a clear idea what architecture and engineering entail," WHS principal Linda Plante said. "The Project Lead the Way initiative is a pathway to show students first of all what it really does take and how many branches to architecture and engineering there are.

"There's so many variations of engineering and that's what we really want to show kids."

WHS offers the pathway to engineering program and East Ridge offers both the engineering program as well as the biomedical sciences program.

In order for the programs to be fully implemented, they must be first certified by the Project Lead the Way organization.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Education, Project Lead the Way and professionals in the field of science were at Woodbury and East Ridge high schools last week as the schools sought certification

Certification is based on instructor training and certification, student portfolios, the course curriculum and equipment and resources.

East Ridge received full certification for both the Pathway to Engineering Program and the Biomedical Science program.

East Ridge was the first in the state to receive certification for the Biomedical Sciences Program.

"They were extremely impressed with how comprehensive we have been, how enthusiastic the kids were," said East Ridge Project Lead the Way teacher Nancy Berg. "They said we kind of set the bar very high."

WHS received a provisional certification for its engineering program since the program is only in its first year, which means that not all teachers have received the necessary training and the entire curriculum is not available. Plante said they should receive full certification next year.

Full certification means students in Project Lead the Way courses can receive grade weighting as well as college credit. The conditional certification allows students to receive weighted grades as well.

For WHS, the certification visit meant a great deal since it was learned that they could offer additional courses next year.

Initially, it was believed that courses had to be taken in a pre-requisite manner, but during the visit it was learned that is not the case.

"We were told that we don't have to do the lock-step progression, we can blend them," Plante said.

Plante said this is exciting because it allows the school to offer the civil engineering and architecture course earlier.

Modeling a property

The civil engineering and architecture course is a project-based course that has students develop a piece of property from start to finish.

"We don't assign a problem for them to find a solution for," Plante said. "Students are asked to take a look at the world and find a problem and develop their own solutions."

The course has students testing soil, surveying land, designing buildings and eventually modeling them.

Plante and Mark Roesler, the WHS Project Lead the Way teacher, said the pathway to engineering program is a very beneficial course for students since it opens up the door to engineering.

Plante said she appreciates how the courses combine all facets of science, technology, engineering and math.

"Project Lead the Way shows that there's integration between services of people who have an interest in math, science and technology," she said. "It's not the old industrial tech class, it's progressed to the point where there's such a strong integration of those components."

Plante said WHS' goal with Project Lead the Way for next year is to bring more females to the program.

"We want women to see that engineering is a career path for them," she said.

Roesler said Project Lead the Way, and STEM course in general, are the new wave of science.

"In the old days it used to be all manufacturing classes. Nowadays it's more about designing those products which get made someplace else," he said. "We need to fill that void."