Preparing elementary, middle and high school students for future jobs and careers is at the heart of local school districts’ mission. Today, that mission is increasingly focused on technology. Not just the use of the latest computers and tablets, but understanding the concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as a STEM curriculum.

So why are schools focusing so much attention on their STEM curriculum? It’s simple, says Lon Stettler, executive director of program development and strategic partnerships at the Lakota Local School District.

“It’s where the high-demand careers are at,” he says. “We don’t want to be preparing kids for jobs that are trending down; we want those that are trending up. And those are in the STEM areas, the science technology, the engineering area, the medical areas.”

The Mason City School District was one of the first public school districts in the area to begin preparing students for the future through STEM education 15 years ago, says Tracey Carson, public information officer.

Back then, Mason developed a science lab for elementary students in grades one through four in addition to their art, music and physical education classes, she says.

High school students at Mason are now offered a wide array of STEM courses.

While school districts have boosted the conventional science and mathematics curriculum—such as advanced placement biology, chemistry and calculus classes—there’s also an increased focus on the engineering, biomedical and information technology classes.

Badin High School in Hamilton added an engineering lab this year and plans to add one next year and then another one the following year, says Dirk Allen, director of admissions and media relations.

“This year we also added game theory design and a robotics class,” Allen says.

This year Mason also added an engineering design science elective at its middle school and a new robotics and coding elective is planned for next year, Carson says.

Robotics is also a popular new addition at St. Ann Catholic School in Hamilton. Last year the school received a robotic arm through a grant, says Sarah Bitzer, principal.

“I think nowadays, more and more they’re using robotics for just about everything, so I think [the robotic arm] is giving our students an edge going into the modern world,” says Bitzer.

Parents appreciate that schools are giving their children that edge.

St. Ann Catholic School parent Jennifer Loy says her young children have enjoyed using the school’s new robotic arm. “They don’t even know that they’re learning,” she says. “It’s just neat.”

And it’s not all about learning in the classroom. School districts are branching out by offering students learning opportunities at area colleges, universities and businesses.

A new opportunity in the Kings Local School District will help students in the STEM curriculum explore their interests through hands-on research.

Kings High School science teacher Ashley Warren has created the Science Academy, a program that connects students with different colleges and universities, along with providing internship and job shadowing opportunities.

“We have really awesome students and I think that they have their own ideas that they would love to research,” Warren says.

Kings High School teacher Jason Shields runs the Kings Engineering Academy. The Engineering Academy started five years ago with five students and has grown to around 110 students, Shields says. Students can start earning their engineering degree while in high school by taking classes that offer dual credit through the University of Cincinnati.

And businesses have noticed the quality of the STEM programs and students at the area’s high schools. Siemens recently donated $1.2 million of its Solid Edge 3D drafting software and $13,000 for a 3D printer, Shields says.

Kings High School Principal Doug Leist says what impresses him about the Engineering Academy is that the projects the students create are practical and useful.

Engineering students at Kings High School recently created a solar air heater that delivers 110-degree air during the winter, Shields says.

“These kids are putting together projects that are good for the environment, they’re things that could sell very easily and very quickly, and they’re something that manufacturers would definitely want to get a prototype of,” Leist says.

The future of STEM education in the high schools appears to be heading toward student internships.

Carson says 10 Mason High School students put their information technology skills to work last summer at General Electric, KnowledgeWorks, Kroger and the Western & Southern Financial Group with paid internships through INTERalliance—a collaborative effort of Greater Cincinnati businesses and educators.

All of the Mason High School interns took the advanced placement computer science class.

Gregg Kummer, Mason High School computer programming/networking teacher, says, “There is not a field right now that computer science doesn’t contribute to or support. Most kids don’t have a chance to get introduced to this content in high school.”

The burgeoning health care field is another area that schools are targeting with their internship programs.

Stettler says Lakota started an internship program three years ago with West Chester Hospital.

“We started out on the biomedical side and then we added the engineering side with Procter & Gamble and Kinetic Vision about the same time,” Stettler says. “We’ve really built, I think, a really good program on the curriculum side, as well as these internships.”

The internships also offer students a peek at future job and career opportunities, Stettler says. “We want the students to find out what they are passionate about,” he says. “We have too many of our high school students that graduate who don’t know what they’re passionate about.”

Stettler adds, “We’re trying to help more of our students in the STEM areas, right now anyway, have these types of experiences so they can find out what these different specialties do, whether it’s on the engineering side or whether it’s on the biomedical side.

“Some of the students think they know what that is, but they don’t really know what it is until they get into it. Then they can decide whether or not that is something that wows them or doesn’t.”