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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 29 April 2013

Students at Boise Eliot/Humboldt School demonstrated their love of science in a visit with Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Monday, April 29.

And the senator took the opportunity to unveil two bills he is sponsoring in the U.S. Senate. One would create a grant program to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math –the STEM subjects; the other would fund hands-on career education.

"We need to do a lot more to bring these concepts about math, science and real-life applications of them, into the classroom," Merkley told the students.

 "One way we can make it (America) work better is to get more programs like you're all going through, into the classroom. So I'm introducing legislation to fund grants to increase the availability of STEM programs across America."

Boise Eliot/Humboldt is a K-8 school specializing in the STEM subjects. And STEM coordinator Kylene Parks makes sure that learning about science is fun. Lessons are hands-on, and students are encouraged to act on what they learn. Parks also works with Boise Eliot/Humboldt's other teachers to help them integrate STEM subjects into their classrooms.

Judging by the curiosity and enthusiasm on display, the effort is working.

After asking Sen. Merkley about his work, students took turns to tell him about their projects and what they have learned.

Students raised salmon in the school and studied them before setting them free into the wild. Every class in the school visited the salmon once a week, to observe how they grew and developed. So it was an emotional day when they released the school-raised fish into Drano Lake near the Bonneville Dam.

The students also studied food and nutrition. And they investigated how far you'd have to go to get nutritious food in different neighborhoods, and how much it cost.

One girl said her mother had changed her shopping habits, after the class studied which foods are better for health. But the family soon found that healthier foods can be more expensive, and hard to find in their neighborhood.

The class went on to take action, sending a letter to President Obama about unequal access to healthy foods.

"It's not fair that people with higher incomes can get healthy food, and people with lower incomes are stuck," a student said.

Merkley also visited a third-grade classroom where students were studying pill bugs, which they also know as isopods.

Sen. Merkley's bill, "The STEM Education for the Global Economy Act" was introduced last week in the U.S. Senate. The bill would focus on middle and high schools, sending grants to states:

·         to bring high quality STEM education into more classrooms

·         to make sure teachers are trained to teach STEM subjects

·         to close achievement gaps, and

·         to make sure students from all backgrounds have opportunities for careers in science, engineering and technology.

"America is spending too little on education and shortchanging our economic future," Merkley said. "We need to make sure that our children are the most educated and well prepared for the global economy.

"That starts with more STEM education in our schools to train the next generation of engineers, while also exposing our middle and high school students to career technical education relevant for manufacturing, welding, and woodworking."

Merkley also plans to introduce another bill that would create grants for practical career and technical education.

"It's for what we used to call shop classes", Merkley said. "Because oftentimes when people build things with their hands in metal shop or wood shop, it takes the science world and it makes it very real. There's a lot of joy that comes with actually making things."

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