Lee County’s Youngest Students Are Inspired to Solve Problems

Kim Verblaauw, now principal of Gulf Elementary School (GES) in Lee County, Florida, recognized the need for early interest in career learning when she was working in a high school and saw how many students were not coming prepared. She saw many high school students have a spark and passion for PLTW Engineering and PLTW Biomedical Science, but she knew there were so many others who weren’t involved simply because they had no prior experience with those subjects; it was too late. By high school, she said, students may not have the math skills or interest in these subjects to be successful in a STEM-related career.

“It made me think I have to go to the elementary level, because that is where the curiosity can be triggered at a young age,” she said. “How many kids are exposed to the design process that young? We have kindergartners not just learning how to build a house that can’t be blown over by the Big Bad Wolf, but learning to rebuild it to make it better.”

GES implemented PLTW Launch three years ago, but Verblaauw still sees the need for a complete PLTW K-12 pathway for students in her district. Similarly, her students see this need in their community as well, so GES now hosts over 100 students every Saturday and leads them through hands-on STEM career learning activities.

On Feb. 3, Verblauuw and three GES students shared their story with a crowd of over 125 educators at the PLTW Florida State Conference at the Florida Gulf Coast University Emergent Technologies Institute.

Students Reed Verblaauw, Ava Romine, and Maverick Bailey each shared what they’re learning in PLTW and what they like about it.

“Project Lead The Way makes learning stuff fun,” Romine said after sharing her experience building a house to withstand the Big Bad Fan – the classroom fan that her PLTW teacher disguised as a vicious wolf for the activity.

PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram gave the keynote at the conference and emphasized that engaging students in career learning at an early age is not just important for building a K-12 pipeline, but absolutely critical to ensuring the vitality of our workforce.

"We are in a global race for talent,” he said. “And those who get this right will win. And we have to start early."

Verblauuw agrees starting young will prepare her students for that global race.

“We know PLTW pulls in the social and emotional part of this. Kids are working in groups to solve problems,” she said. “We know it’s the future.”

Stay current on Vince’s travels – and the latest in education and workforce development news – by following him on Twitter at @VinceBertram.