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BOOST FOR FUTURE: STEM Equipment Gives Students a Head Start on College

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Visits W.F. West STEM Courses
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Visits W.F. West STEM Courses

Charles McElroy, left, who graduated from W.F. West High School in Chehalis Saturday, talks to
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn about working in school’s cell culture lab.
Dorn visited the school on Tuesday.

Financial support from a local organization has helped W.F. West High School in Chehalis purchase equipment typically found at colleges and universities — not high schools — making the school a STEM curriculum leader in the state. Without support from the Chehalis Foundation to buy thousands of dollars of technology, including a scanning electron microscope and equipment for a cell culture lab, the school would not be able to purchase the equipment. “We are very lucky,” Charles McElroy, who graduated Saturday, said about the equipment after listing off dollar amounts for each item in the cell culture lab. Two years ago, Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction, recognized W.F. West High School as a STEM Lighthouse School. On Tuesday, he visited the school to see how its STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — courses have grown and the boost it has given students.

The school got a scanning electron microscope last year and the students who worked with it this year agreed with Dorn that having access to the equipment makes them more interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field. Krista Wilks, a W.F. West science teacher, said multiple students who worked with the microscope during the previous school year have gone on to study science fields at universities.
“When they apply for colleges or get to college, they stand out,” Wilks said, McElroy studied the cortisol hormone in the cell lab his senior year. He plans to attend Washington State University to study genetics and cell biology. His lab experience has given him a head start. “I can do real science as a freshman,” he said. McElroy and Matthew Derham, who also graduated Saturday and worked in the cell lab his senior year, talked with Dorn about things that could be done differently to help students.

When funding is tight, Derham said advanced placement courses are often some of the first programs to be cut. His older sister was able to take some courses that were unavailable by the time he was old enough. McElroy said something needs to be done to help students who are not concerned about life after high school to help them focus on their futures.

Before leaving the school, staff showed Dorn one of its newest pieces of equipment that will be used for its 2015 Summer STEM Academy for high school students. This summer’s camp theme is “Drone Zone.” Participants in the academy from Aug. 3-7 will learn how to operation unmanned aerial vehicles. Using a phone app, JT Yarter, who graduated Saturday, showed Dorn how to fly the drone the school currently has
on hand in advance of the camp. More will arrive for the camp, which has a maximum registration of 120 students. For more information about the upcoming camp, visit

Written by: Kaylee Osowski ::

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