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Local farmers have opportunity to impact rural STEM education

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

Farmers throughout Dallas County and other rural areas can directly impact the funding and STEM education received by a rural school district in their vicinity. Through a program run by America’s Farmers, known as Grow Rural Education, schools in rural areas receive grants of $10,000 or $25,000 to go toward the promotion of education centered around science, technology, engineering and math all thanks to the nominations from farmers.

While the method of nomination may be unusual, GRE spokesperson Erin Glarner explains that the farmers who control the nominations help keep the focus on rural areas of the state, while also contributing to a higher sense of community between the farmers and those associated with the school district.

Although other grants permit ambiguity in their usage, the money given by the GRE initiative goes toward a specific project that must be laid out in the application after the nomination by the farmer. This project, as explained in the application process, must advance the education of the district’s children in STEM fields.

This also allows for school districts to think of productive ways to use their funds to not only help themselves, but to also help their community. According to Glarner, previous projects have yielded unique results.

For example, a recent grant given out by GRE to the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind allowed them to create an augmented sandbox, which benefits their scientific growth with hands-on education for those who are differently-abled.

Another school district, which Glarner says is “one of our better success stories,” used their funds to build a prosthetic arm. They then donated their newly-produced arm to a local farmer who had lost one of his arms during a farming accident. With his new limb, the farmer was significantly aided in his abilities to perform his day-to-day tasks. This use of grant money shows how both the farmer and the schools could benefit from the GRE’s program.

To Glarner, she believes the program is necessary to help fill the STEM void in rural areas across the country.

“We were hearing feedback that rural areas were lacking in the technology fields and with STEM programs in general. With this program, the farmers help influence where the money goes in the system,” Glarner said. “We have been doing some research, and we discovered that in 2018 there will be over two million STEM jobs that will go unfilled. What this is really about is education.”

With over $150,000 granted to Alabama school districts since GRE’s inception in 2012, the state is one that GRE has focused on in the past, but Glarner admits that more work could be done to increase participation in multiple states.

Only five counties in Alabama — Madison, Colbert, Geneva, Henry and Limestone — have seen any of the $150,000, despite over $2.3 million donated yearly nationwide by GRE.

“We wanted farmers to get the word out about this, but we need more schools to get involved,” Glarner said.

The deadline for famers to nominate their favorite school district is April 2, with the participants being judged by math and science teachers from non-qualifying counties shortly after that. The winners for 2018 grants are announced by the Farmer’s Advisory Council sometime in August during a two-day ceremony in St. Louis. According to Glarner, it takes about six to eight weeks from the announcement for the school district to receive funds.

For more information about America’s Famers or their Grow Rural Education initiative, visit their website at www.growruraleducation.com.

To nominate a school district, farmers can go to the above website or call 1-877-276-3332, a toll-free number.