8th Grade STEM, West Feliciana Middle School St. Francisville, LA
At the University of Louisiana, Heather Howle studied pre-med. While taking an anatomy and physiology class, she started a study group with her fellow students. Soon, she began to teach the group. “I started seeing the light bulbs go off in my [peers] and I just fell in love,” she says.
Heather traded in her scrubs for a career—now 17 years long—in the classroom. After spending five years teaching in Houston, Heather returned home to Louisiana, and for the last 10 years she has taught in St. Francisville, a rural town of 1,500. For most of Heather’s students, post-graduation job prospects include working at a local paper mill that intermittently goes out of business, a power plant, or the state penitentiary. Heather says many students leave after graduation for bigger cities with more diverse job opportunities—a talent-suck that hurts the community.
Following a Siemens Institute STEM Fellow Award in 2012, Heather, who previously taught science, was approached to create a STEM class for her school. She quickly accepted—despite the fact that she had no curriculum or budget. She wrote her own curriculum from scratch and hit the pavement gathering grant money. Today, her school has a robust robotics program that competes in competitions all over the state.
Heather hopes her school’s budding STEM program will give her small-town students access to opportunities that are possible with a STEM education. In an ideal world, she says, they will take what they learn in her class, go off to college, and return to start companies in and around St. Francisville. They’re already achieving outstanding results in her classroom: At the outset of the last school year, two percent of students demonstrated basic understanding on an earth science comprehensive exam. By the end of the year, 90 percent did.