MCCSC is full ‘STEAM’ ahead in Ready Schools Initiative

On the last Friday of the school year, a line of eager Bloomington High School South students is already forming before the doors open to The ScholarSips Cafe.

Some students place their orders on a new mobile app, and a tasty drink awaits them on the counter as they walk into the shop, which can best be described as a Starbucks designed for teens.

As the line continues to grow, the mood in the coffee shop is light. Students are savoring the last few days of school. Soft pop music fills the air alongside the aroma of fresh coffee.

Run by students under the supervision of teacher Jeana Kerr, the ScholarSips Cafe is the latest addition to the Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) and was partly funded through the Regional Opportunity Initiatives’ Ready Schools Initiative.

Ready Schools urges a design-thinking framework to support school districts in aligning their PK-12 curricular and programmatic offerings to the educational and workforce needs of the Indiana Uplands. Student-run businesses are one way a school district can provide students with a high-quality work-based learning experience that allows students to develop skills regional employers say are essential for success in the workforce.

The ultimate goal of Ready Schools is to enable schools to engage business leaders, community stakeholders, parents, and students in meaningful dialogue about what success means within their community and to develop an implementation plan to obtain that success. Within school districts, this often includes a combination of relevant, hands-on teaching and learning, college and career awareness, and community and industry partnership strategies that, in alignment, have the potential to transform outcomes for students and communities. 

Following the development of MCCSC’s Ready Schools plan, ROI awarded the school district a $1.2 million grant in 2020 to implement five distinct strategies: project-based learning, STEAM and hands-on learning, career awareness, entrepreneurship, and community and industry partnerships. MCCSC is the largest school district in the 11-county Indiana Uplands region, with 20% of the region’s students (pre-K through grade 12).

“For us, it was a lot of ‘Go slow to go fast,’” said Stacy Sedory, MCCSC Ready Schools Project Manager for the district. “We really had to get adoption and interest from people. Once we got that, I think we moved full steam ahead.” 

Sedory explained that a student-run business was not in the original Ready Schools plan MCCSC developed but was later included in their entrepreneurship strategy. After expanding entrepreneurship classes in high schools and middle schools and learning more about the student-run business model, the decision was made to reallocate some of the Ready Schools funding to create one at Bloomington South.

“I couldn’t be happier. To see this all finally come to fruition is one of our proudest moments,” Sedory said as she stood in the coffee shop.

ROI Education Specialist Emily Menkedick applauded MCCSC’s Ready Schools efforts as they navigated a pandemic and adjusted their plans, all while prioritizing the needs of their students, families, and the region.

“We are thrilled with the progress MCCSC has made this school year,” she said. 

“It is evident that there are teachers across the district who welcome innovative approaches and are excited to share this work. The district’s Ready Schools team has embraced these champions and provided avenues to organically scale implementation, positively impacting student learning across their focus areas. The way Dr. Winston and her team have been willing to be flexible to the needs of students and teachers throughout Ready Schools implementation has been commendable and reflects MCCSC’s dedication to preparing students for future success.”

STEMulating Success

Batchelor Middle School students work in a makerspace. Photo courtesy of MCCSC

For MCCSC, the Ready Schools Initiative first inspired a greater focus on STEM education throughout the district. “Our STEM education has grown immensely because of Ready Schools,” Sedory said.

MCCSC’s Ready Schools implementation work began with creating the STEM to Them Mobile Lab. This past fall, the mobile lab visited all 14 elementary schools at least once to work on engineering and maker lessons. This spring, the mobile lab focused on robotics lessons. The school district plans to find ways to provide students with longer and more in-depth lessons at the mobile lab next school year. The district also employs a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and computer science specialist, and each school also has at least one STEAM teacher leader with specialized training.

MCCSC middle schools also have digital fabrication labs, which continue to evolve as the school district seeks additional grant funding to add equipment. These labs feature state-of-the-art equipment students can use, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, physical computing devices, sewing machines, and screen printing presses.

Students see a lesson in action on the STEM to Them Mobile Lab. Photo courtesy of MCCSC

“Every student in the middle school has an opportunity to work in the labs,” Sedory said. “The skills you learn – the collaboration and the creativity – are the skills we can’t teach. Employers are saying, ‘We need people to do these things.’ We can teach them how to do something specific, but it’s these skills that kids need to live and experience.”

MCCSC is working with its two high schools to provide students with making opportunities. By using additional grant funds, MCCSC’s alternative high school, Bloomington Graduation School, now also has a full digital fabrication lab

“We used to just have some STEM boxes they could take out and do some literacy exercises. Now, because of some of the work we’ve done through STEM to Them, we are bringing STEM to our schools,” Sedory said.

Last summer, MCCSC partnered with ROI and Richland Bean Blossom School Corporation to offer a professional development opportunity for educators. Teachers who attended the Monroe Maker Experience received training on 2D and 3D design software and completed a design challenge using the MCCSC middle school Fab Lab equipment. 

MCCSC also partnered with the Uplands Maker Mobile for the Monroe Maker Experience and other STEM activities in the district. 

Ensuring success

Along with STEAM and hands-on learning, MCCSC continues to work in four other strategy areas identified in the Ready Schools process: college and career awareness, project-based learning, entrepreneurship, and community outreach.

At Marlin Elementary School, educators are increasing project-based learning. Recently, second- and third-graders began a recycling project in the building, and Bloomington High School South construction students built large recycling boxes for their project. 

“There was discussion at the elementary school about how big the boxes should be. What should we do? And how do we do this? The other grade levels have begun now to wonder how they can get involved. They will look at composting and things like that now,” Sedory said.

The new College and Career Center at Bloomington High School South.

Along with the ScholarSips Cafe, one of the most significant Ready Schools developments was the creation of College and Career Centers at both high schools. Grand Openings were hosted at Bloomington High School North and Bloomington High School South in May to invite people into the new spaces. The collaborative spaces have a campus feel and are connected to the high school libraries to make them inviting to students. The goal is for students to know – no matter their grade – where they can get help with college and career planning, Sedory said.

Partnering with different community organizations, such as Indiana University and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, the district also hosts employment and college fairs, college tours, leadership summits, and a Reality Store where all middle school students learn about financial literacy. 

Into the real world

Near the end of the school year, students and school counselors can be seen working in the library at Bloomington South. Some have ScholarSips cups of coffee in hand.

Work on the coffee shop began at the beginning of the school year. Since opening, lines of students have been coming in to get refreshments during the school day. No marketing was needed due to an Instagram account and students spreading the news among classmates.

On the wall above a line of tables filled with students, hangs paintings by a featured artist from the school’s art department. According to Kerr, student representation is evident throughout the shop. Students hand-picked everything in ScholarSips, from the fabric on the backs of the chairs chosen by interior design students to the 20-ounce cups selected by senior Alexis Tamewiz.

“I can basically say I’m a small business owner at this point,” Tamewitz said. “I looked at all of the blueprints for this place; I measured out things; I helped order all of the fridges; I picked out cup sizes; I did everything. I was involved in every single aspect of it. It was so cool to be a part of it.”

Tamewitz also came up with the name of the coffee shop. Another student designed a website where students can place mobile orders. 

“The students and I had to apply for a building permit. We had to have a grease trap, so we had to work with and present to the City of Bloomington Utilities to figure out how to make that work. They had presentations to the administration about what they were going to do. We researched our ice maker. We researched everything you see up here to figure out what works,” Kerr said.

Students even had a say in setting the prices. After looking at other Bloomington establishments, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, they decided to make the prices manageable as part of their mission statement to provide a welcoming environment for students. 

“We’re not making a lot of money because we prioritize this environment for our students,” Kerr said.

Kerr is the family and consumer science teacher at South. Since the start of the school year, around 30 students have participated in creating ScholarSip, from surveying students to setting the menu, designing, constructing, and working at the shop.

“At first, they were just students in the classroom. What I observed through the process was these students getting into the real world, understanding real problems, making real phone calls, talking to people, they just turned into young adults,” Kerr said.

Senior Brooke Koontz was responsible for determining the inventory they would need to open and ensuring they had the money to maintain it going forward. 

“For the first couple of weeks, I sat and worked on a list to figure out how much we would need through everything,” Koontz said. “We were figuring out how much sugar, creamer, and milk we would need to start out. It was trying to figure out the middle ground once we opened because we either had too much or too little.” 

After opening on April 3, menu changes began as the staff realized not all students loved coffee. Soon, lemonade and brewed teas were added. Cold brew and cappuccinos are also student favorites. 

Koontz will attend the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University this fall, and she said this experience has only further prepared her for that next chapter.

Sedory said her hope is the Ready Schools Initiative in MCCSC will continue to grow and provide valuable experiences as students and teachers “think outside the box.”

“Without ROI, I don’t think we would have been anywhere near where we are now,” she said.

“The continued support has been super helpful.”

Since 2017, ROI has awarded Ready Schools development and implementation grants to 18 school systems in the Indiana Uplands region. To learn more about what other schools are doing in the region, visit our Ready Schools page.