NEW PALESTINE

Bob Jolly picked up the test tube filled with yellow liquid and held it before the Doe Creek Middle School students.

It contained E. coli bacteria, a type found in the human body, he told them.

“It’s not dangerous, but you don’t want to drink it,” Jolly said.

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Jolly recently spoke with middle school students about his work as a research scientist for Eli Lilly, part of an ongoing school initiative to pair students with professionals from the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) community. Programs like these — and the way they give students an up-close look at careers in STEM-related fields — have earned the middle school state recognition.

Doe Creek is among nine schools across the state to earn a STEM certification from the Indiana Department of Education this year, bringing the total number of Indiana STEM-certified schools to 32.

Schools are chosen for STEM certification based on their commitment to wrapping science, technology, engineering and math lessons into curricula across the school.

The recent visit from Eli Lilly scientists, for example, gave students the opportunity to meet with and ask questions of professionals who make a living in STEM careers, which educators hope encourages students to consider working in a STEM-related field.

Students at Doe Creek already are expressing more interest in classwork, educators said. Seventh-grader Trevor Commons said he’s more engaged when the learning process invites students to take a more active role in lessons. With STEM projects, it’s often all hands on deck.

The DOE’s state certification program means to bolster enthusiasm in STEM-related careers among students; interest in pursuing jobs in those fields has plateaued among Indiana high schools students since 2012, according to The Condition of College & Career Readiness, ACT’s annual report.

Certified STEM schools exemplify a non-traditional approach to education, state education officials said in a news release.

STEM schools show excellence utilizing STEM concepts not only in math and science classes but arts, humanities and more, with an emphasis on hands-on learning.

The process for becoming STEM-certified is lengthy. Locally, educators began working toward the school’s certification two years ago.

Schools wanting to be STEM-certified must go through an application and certification process that includes site visits from DOE officials and a review process.

“Our staff, students and community have done an excellent job of working together to fulfill the requirements and expectations the state laid out for us,” Principal Jim Voelz wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.

As part of the certification, schools are required to offer STEM opportunities in and outside of the classroom.

Educators at Doe Creek already were meeting many state requirements in science classes, but they needed to add STEM-related educational opportunities to other subjects and activities.

Science teachers Mary Jones and Jaemala Smith created after-school science and robotics clubs to help meet the community and extra-curricular requirements.

“It’s a real honor to get to where we want to be with our programming,” Jones said. “It’s an embodiment of all the hard work our kids and teachers did.”

All school educators spent time creating cross-curricular projects to develop hands-on STEM-related work in the classroom, educators said.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.