The Nevada school board spent Monday evening updating policies and being updated on what some departments have been working on during the school year.

To begin the night, Kat Wieczorek updated the board on Nevada Middle School’s EDISON project, a curriculum designed to teach students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a.k.a. STEM. Wieczorek and her students, through a grant from Iowa State University, tested a new program where they designed a bridge for a character (a mouse named Lil’ Edison) to reach his desired destination, in this case some crackers.

This exposed students to various aspects of engineering such as critical thinking, problem-solving, trial and error, and how some different structural designs work better or worse than others. Since this was a new computer program, students were also tasked with finding any possible glitches in the program. Real materials were brought in for testing by a contractor in Ames.

“[The students] were learning, and they didn’t even realize it because they were having so much fun,” said Wieczorek.

In addition to being excited about problem-solving and learning to work as a team for the project, studies have shown that students exposed to the STEM fields by the time they’re in eighth grade are more likely to be interested in careers in those fields.

Next, Director of School Improvement and Innovation Justin Gross presented what the district plans to post around schools next year as part of its efforts to support students in and out of the classroom. These posts will be a reminder to teachers, students and staff to work toward the vision that teachers, administration and the Nevada community has set for the school system.

Community members decided on developed learner outcomes they wanted the district’s students to achieve when they graduate. The four that the community came up with collectively were creativity, critical thinkers, flexibility and adaptability, and empathetic and compassionate individuals.

“This is what our community told us they wanted for Nevada grads,” said superintendent Dr. Steve Gray. “I think the things we’re doing are purposeful toward those outcomes. It’s going to pull together some things that people may not think are connected, but we know they are.”

Another update was from Food Service Director David Schmitz. Schmitz reported that the Nevada nutrition operation is ‘profitable and trending upward,’ with revenues up $32,000 and expenditures and food costs down compared to last school year. In addition, Schmitz and his staff make additional revenue for the school by providing meals for places such as Youth and Shelter Services and the Boys and Girls Club in Ames. Schmitz also monitors patterns of how many students are eating to make sure the kitchen isn’t under-producing or over-producing.

Working with vocational agriculture teacher Kevin Cooper and his FFA students, Schmitz runs an innovative Farm-to-School program to help provide students throughout the school with fresh produce, some of it grown in the school’s greenhouse. The regional director of United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) from Denver, Colo., heard about the Nevada district and had to see the operation for herself while in town for newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s speech on agriculture earlier this month. Schmitz thanked the board for approving what he called a ‘state-of-the-art’ kitchen at Nevada, and mentioned that the nurse’s office reported that visits there dropped significantly after the Farm-to-School operation began.

“Moving forward, we’re looking really good for what we provide,” said Schmitz.

In other news, district handbooks have been updated to reflect new personnel, as well as discipline and phone/social media policies. The board also approved a new transportation rate when drivers transport students outside of the district’s normal routes.

Finally, tonight was President Marty Chitty’s last meeting as a member of the board as he moves on to solely serve the Story County Board of Supervisors. Chitty was presented a lifetime pass to Nevada district events and a plaque for his 10 years of service to the Nevada school board.

“My advice to you is that you need to know all the people in this building better than you do tonight. The people that run this place are the district,” said Chitty.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here; it’s been both challenging and rewarding,” Chitty continued. “I’ll watch you closely and cheer for you loudly.”

The next meeting of the Nevada school board will be held June 12.