Lourdes Academy in Wisconsin Shares Implementation Story

Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is on track to expand PLTW to complete pathways in just four years. The academy’s Director of Development Karen Boehm recently attended the PLTW Wisconsin State Conference and shared the journey of the PreK-12 Catholic school system.

Currently, the system offers two modules of Launch in Grades 4 and 5 and Design & Modeling (PLTW Gateway) in Grade 6.

“Our big vision goal is to look at the needs of our entire community in terms of talent, skills and leadership, and determine how Lourdes Academy can play a role in meeting those needs,” Boehm said. “Providing the skill sets that students will need in the future is incredibly important, but helping them relate those skills to something tangible is important as well.”

Finding the resources to implement a program of this size and scope was a challenge, but the schools have been supported by the Board of Trustees and PLTW partnership team.

"We wrote grants and garnered support from our community to help fund the PLTW start-up and the renovation of a classroom into a STEM Innovation Center,” she said. “Companies like Bemis and John Deere not only supported our initiative with a grant, but have representatives serving on our Partnership Team. This sends a strong message to us that Project Lead The Way is making a difference and has a long-term positive impact on the workforce of the future."

For Lourdes Academy, the PLTW partnership team has been invaluable in bringing a business perspective to the project.

“Partnership team members have been very willing to talk with our students at all ages about how the skills they are learning now are valuable in a variety of careers and in their everyday lives,” Boehm said. “They have also been strong advocates for and promoters of the program.”

Lourdes Academy Curriculum Director Jon Fleming also says support and perspective from the partnership team has been critical as the schools implement PLTW.

Lourdes Academy, for example, was not planning to implement PLTW in the high school for about two to three years, but the support of one partnership team member led them to re-evaluate the timeline and speed it up.

“One of our partnership team members is an alumni of Lourdes and a computer software engineer who recently moved back to the area,” he said. “When he learned about the STEM initiatives we were putting in place and our plan to launch PLTW, he enthusiastically got on board. Through that process, he saw an opportunity to share his expertise with our high school students and now comes in once a week to work on a semester-long coding project with our freshmen.”

Another piece of the puzzle in Lourdes Academy’s PLTW journey was how to communicate program information with stakeholders. The community had many questions about the value of the program, how it would fit into the school day, and how it would be funded.

“We expected those questions,” Boehm said. “It was very important that we shared with our families, staff, and community not only what our plan was in implementing PLTW and STEM programs, but why. We researched workforce trends, school trends, and STEM programs to better understand the scope of the issue as it relates to the need for STEM skills in our communities. With backgrounds in engineering, math, and science, partnership team members were enthusiastic about sharing their experience with teachers in the classroom as they rolled out the program for the first time.”

The efforts to bring PLTW to Lourdes Academy have paid off for both students and teachers at the school. Fleming has spent time in each PLTW classroom and has seen the many positive changes as the teachers become comfortable in learning alongside their students.

“The students' level of engagement I have observed during classroom visits has been incredible,” Fleming said. “During my last visit, each student team I observed was completely engaged in designing and constructing a device for enhancing their robots in order to perform a higher level task. During the 30 minutes I was in the classroom, I did not hear a single comment from students that did not relate directly to their mission or observe any off-task behaviors. This is not what I would typically expect from fifth-grade students.”

Boehm attended the PLTW Wisconsin State Conference in Oshkosh, Wisconsin November 9 – 10 with over 300 educators from the state where Vince opened the day of professional development with the keynote address.

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