Nine Missouri school districts are offering K-12 programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

Butler R-V, Blue Springs R-IV, Liberty 53, Ritenour, Jennings, Affton 101, Montgomery County R-II, McDonald County R-I and Brentwood are the first to offer the programs in every grade, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the Washington School District is not there yet, but is working toward offering more STEM.

Washington currently offers PLTW engineering at the high school and will begin PLTW biomedical sciences next year.

“We also have our own elementary STEM program that is part of the specials rotation of art, music, PE, tech, library and STEM,” VanLeer noted. “Additionally, we are using the PLTW launch program in our gifted program as well. So we are moving right along.”

The district’s WINGS Foundation awarded a $10,000 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) grant to the science department. Students in all science classes at WHS are benefiting from that grant.

PLTW offers extensive, rigorous training in STEM courses and provides students with a higher order of thinking and collaborative problem solving, said Jim Hogan, director of engineering and technology in the Office of College and Career Readiness.

“We expect more districts to offer these programs next year,” he said.

Project Lead the Way helps schools design activities, projects and problem-based learning experiences to better prepare students to solve problems in STEM fields.

For example, in the Ritenour School District, high school students in an introductory course in biomedical science are challenged with solving a fictitious crime by studying DNA, fingerprinting, electrophoresis and other physical evidence. The course lays the foundation for additional biomedical courses in Ritenour.

Missouri ranks third in the country, behind only Texas and California, in the number of schools implementing PLTW programs. More than 370 Missouri schools are participating at the elementary, middle or high school level. “Industries around our state have told us there is a shortage of qualified STEM workers,” said Hogan. “Missouri is working to prepare students for those careers.”

College and career readiness is one of the primary goals of Missouri’s Top 10 by 20 initiative, an effort to rank among the top 10 states in education performance by 2020.