Drones in the classroom? High school students learning how to program them, and becoming certified drone pilots? It's all happening this fall at Detroit Lakes High School, thanks to a $15,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education grant from the Bayer Fund's Grow Rural Education program.
According to Joshua Omang, coordinator of the high school's academy program, the grant has enabled the district to purchase several drones that will be used as part of a brand-new ag foods and natural resources class being offered to Laker juniors and seniors for the first time this year.
"This is one of our academy model classes," he said, explaining that one of the ultimate goals of the academy program is for graduating seniors to leave high school with a clear career path in mind.
Omang added that part of the new class's curriculum is for each student to learn to program and pilot drones for a variety of uses, and to earn a Federal Aviation Administration drone pilot certification by the end of the semester.
Though this is a new class, he said, it had its roots in a previous collaborative drone project with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
"We have a good partnership with MnDOT," said Omang, adding that the state agency has its own drones on hand, for use in various surveying, mapping and civil engineering projects, just to name a few. "We had the students go over there (to the local MnDOT office) for field trips last year."
The opportunities the students had during those field trips to learn about all the possible applications for drones "was kind of the vision for this class," he said.
Besides drone pilot certification, another major component of the class is for students to learn how to program their drone for an agriculture or natural resources-related project. For this reason, two different types of drones were purchased through the grant: The lightweight models typically used for drone pilot certification courses, and larger, sturdier models that can be mounted with cameras, GPS, sprayers, and other equipment that might be used for the students' projects.
Without the Bayer Fund grant, Omang added, there would be a key, hands-on component missing from the class. "We could do all the curricular pieces, and the field trip pieces, but we didn't have the capacity to get the equipment that was needed. That's where the grant comes in."
He added that the first section of the new class would begin when fall classes at Detroit Lakes High School get underway on Monday, Sept. 14. Classes also start Monday at Detroit Lakes Middle School, though students at Rossman and Roosevelt Elementary schools won't officially start classes until Thursday, Sept. 17.
America's Farmers Grow Rural Education
In early 2020, Bayer Fund's "America's Farmers Grow Rural Education" program partnered with local farmers to nominate rural public school districts and award grants to enhance their science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.
To qualify for a GRE grant, local farmers nominated their rural school districts to compete for a merit-based, $15,000 grant. Nominated school districts then submitted grant applications describing their STEM-focused projects. Grow Rural Education's Farmer Advisory Council, consisting of a panel of math and science teachers and approximately 30 farmer leaders from across the country, reviewed the finalist applications and selected the winning school districts, which included Detroit Lakes Public Schools.
"Bayer Fund and the farmers we partner with feel incredibly passionate about Grow Rural Education because we're investing in our children — who are the future — by enhancing STEM learning in rural public school districts," said Al Mitchell, president of the Bayer Fund. "We are always amazed by the incredible support of local farmers, as well as the countless ways Grow Rural Education brings teachers, students and people in the community together to set children up for success."
Since 2010, Bayer Fund's agricultural grant programs have awarded more than $57 million to thousands of nonprofits, schools and ag students across rural America. To view a complete list of winners or to learn more about the America's Farmers Grow Rural Education program visit AmericasFarmers.com or visit their Facebook page.