Lunch and Learn: A Waynesville Middle Initiative to Support STEM Education

By Susanna Barbee | Apr 04, 2014
Photo by: Donated photo Lt. Chris Chandler from the Waynesville Police Department, along with his intern, Savannah Clark, teach Waynesville Middle School students about crime scene investigation and forensics as part of the Lunch and Learn program.

After attending the Bridging the Gap conference this past fall, Waynesville Middle School science teachers Amy Tiller and Bonnie Coleman became inspired to develop a program that would equip their students for 21st century jobs.

Today’s teachers are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist; therefore, STEM (science, technology, mathematics, and engineering) education has become a national priority. To be globally competitive, today’s schools are placing more and more emphasis on these subject areas.

Further, according to the STEM Coalition, there are currently 26 million STEM jobs in the U.S., and the number is growing.

At the Bridging the Gap conference, Tiller and Coleman experienced a program called Lunch and Learn where attendees enjoyed lunch while listening to a speaker from a STEM-related field. They decided to develop a similar program for the students of Waynesville Middle School.

The primary goal of the Lunch and Learn program at WMS is to expose rural students to careers they may not otherwise be exposed to. Speakers will be professionals from a STEM-related field.

Each month, students complete a brief application to attend the Lunch and Learn sessions. They then enjoy lunch from a local eatery and participate in a session where a guest speaker educates the students on his or her profession.

“This program provides opportunities for students to experience 21st century careers from members of our community,” said eighth-grade teacher Bonnie Coleman. “Students are making connections about the different jobs they can have that align to content they are learning in class.  Our hope is that these experiences will help them gain insight about potential careers they want to pursue, and understand the relevance of what they are learning in class.”

The first session was held on Feb. 28 with Anthony Tiller, strength and conditioning coach and business owner of Underdog Fitness and Performance Training. Tiller explained the physics behind strength training as well as the importance of setting goals. The first Lunch and Learn session only involved seventh grade students.

The second Lunch and Learn session took place March 28, and both seventh and eighth -grade students participated. The ultimate goal is for students in all grade levels to participate and for there to be two sessions per month so students have a choice.

During last week’s session, Lt. Chris Chandler from the Waynesville Police Department, along with his intern, Savannah Clark, taught students about crime scene investigation and forensics.

“The students are very enthusiastic about the guest speakers; they are enjoying learning about these different careers,” Coleman said. “They have great questions and thoughts they are contributing during the presentations.  As a result of these sessions, students are expressing more interest in class activities, and asking about careers that align with what they are learning.”

In planning for next month’s session, Tiller and Coleman are talking with the Test Farm to welcome a guest speaker who works with genetically modified foods. Other careers that will be featured in future months are medical, wildlife, and computer science, among others.

Tiller and Coleman are applying for several grants to provide funding for the Lunch and Learn program. If you would like to support this program or visit as a guest speaker, contact Amy Tiller or Coleman at 456-2403.

Shelby Harrell contributed to this report.