GERING — Vistabeam Inventive Wireless in Gering in partnership with Gering Junior High accepted a $103,000 Developing Youth Talent Initiative grant Monday to upgrade the junior high’s information technology lab and STEM program.

Rebecca Shields of Vistabeam Internet; Shawn Seiler, Gering Junior High principal; and Justin Reinmuth, Gering High School STEM teacher, traveled to Lincoln Monday to accept the grant. As part of the grant, Vistabeam will offer a week-long summer externship for a school teacher, offering hands-on experiences that will translate to new ideas and inspiration in the classroom as well as guest speakers and field trips.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and leadership from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development announced Vistabeam was one of three companies selected for this year’s DYTI grant, which supports partnerships between the private sector and Nebraska public schools to inspire seventh and eighth grade students to explore careers in manufacturing, information technology (IT) and math or science related fields.

“Our Developing Youth Talent Initiative is introducing the next generation of students to career fields where great-paying opportunities continue to grow,” said Ricketts. “The program helps connect kids with those opportunities, positioning Nebraska to retain more of the great people who have helped build the good life into the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family.”

“We’re pumped,” said Seiler. “At the junior high level, our focus is on exploration and enrichment. We want kids to learn their talents, become confident in who they’re becoming and then when they get to the high school, we want them to flourish in their interest for learning and careers.”

Spearheaded by Shields, applying for the grant and implementing new curriculum has been a two-year process.

“We initially met last March and put together a plan and submitted to the Nebraska Department of Education for the grant, but we didn’t get it,” Seiler said. “This year, we tweaked some things and talked to a grant writer out of Omaha and rewrote it before submitting it again.” Shields was contacted in early June about being one of three partnerships awarded the grant.

“In our industry, wireless internet is growing so fast, so we’re always looking for engineers, phone technicians, field technicians and tower climbers,” Shields said. “By making this extraordinary connection with the middle school to teach the kids what we have in Gering for jobs, we want to keep them locally, so they don’t move away.”

GJH is launching nine new courses for the 2019-20 school year, with one of them being the STEM program. Within the grant, Seiler said they pinpointed programs for sixth- through eighth-graders in STEM. Being awarded the grant will allow them to purchase curriculum, offer training and educational tools so students have the opportunity to engage in a quality STEM program. A small portion of the grant also supports the courses of introduction to medical science, introduction to agriculture and introduction to business and technology courses.

“We start our STEM classes this fall,” Seiler said. “What the grant has done is allowed us to make a state-of-the-art curriculum and training.”

From the grant, the junior high can now focus on enhancing other programs as the grant jump starts the many transitions taking place at the junior high.

Following the recent success of the STEM program at the Gering High School with the Samsung program, high school teacher Justin Reinmuth is excited about the increased STEM awareness the grant will provide.

“It’s really going to bring something that they didn’t have funding for at the junior high level,” Reinmuth said. “It’s going to bring it into the 21st century with modules for students to get excited about STEM education.”

Some of the models students will work through include robotics, tablet information and an earthquake unit, which introduces students to physics.

Reinmuth enjoyed working alongside Shields and Seiler to apply for the grant.

“We totally revamped what the previous one was and we’re very blessed to be awarded that kind of money,” Reinmuth said. “We’ve been super lucky in Gering the past couple of years that will really help STEM education.”

As GJH implements new career cluster courses to its students, the district is taking steps to align career academies at all levels.

“Our STEM program at the high school is one of our fastest growing programs,” said Bob Hastings, Gering Public Schools superintendent. “There is a lot of student interest and being able to put courses into place at the junior high only continues to broaden those opportunities for students to see where their careers are going to take them. It provides us the ability to get materials and equipment to open those opportunities for students.”

Once the students get involved in STEM, Reinmuth said it is important they continue to learn as they go through high school and college to be successful.

“They are trying so hard to get kids into those fields, so they need to continue to push their knowledge to give themselves the best opportunity to be successful in their future careers,” he said.

While the class sizes in the new STEM courses will be larger this school year, Seiler looks forward to providing students these new courses.

“Our classes are a little bigger this year in science, but we think it’s going to be worth a little bit larger classes compared to the STEM program being project-based,” Seiler said.

The other two private businesses awarded grants were Orthman Manufacturing in Lexington and Reinke Manufacturing in Deshler. Orthman received a $125,000 grant to outfit mobile trailer “makerspaces” with manufacturing-related technologies and equipment. Reinke received a $22,000 grant as they launch an Exposing Kids to Career Opportunities program.

“Career choice is one of the most important decisions a young adult will face,” said Department of Economic Development Director Dave Rippe. “We want to ensure that Nebraska youth who have not yet reached that stage will approach it with an awareness of the extremely rewarding opportunities awaiting them in the manufacturing and IT fields. In doing so, we’re also supporting our overall mission to ensure Nebraska companies are equipped with the skilled workforce they need to succeed and thrive.”

lauren.brant@starherald.com

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Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at lauren.brant@starherald.com.

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