A new pilot program at Shanahan Middle School will give eighth-graders early exposure to some of the most in-demand career fields.

A new pilot program at Shanahan Middle School will give eighth-graders early exposure to some of the most in-demand career fields.

Starting next school year, students can participate in Shanahan's i3STEM program. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while the three I's stand for inquire, integrate and innovate.

Judy Jones, gifted services coordinator at Shanahan, said certain students will benefit from a curriculum focused on STEM concepts.

"Students who opt for STEM classes are typically students who love to learn by solving problems," she said.

The district has planned for about 100 students to enroll in the program. Students must submit a statement of interest, which confirms they know what they're signing up for, before applying to study the curriculum.

"We certainly wouldn't want to turn anyone away, and we don't anticipate that happening," Jones said.

Along with projects and assignments that focus on creative thinking and problem solving, Jones said the program will offer advice and insight for students from STEM professionals.

District officials haven't had to look far for those experts.

"We're very fortunate in Olentangy," Jones said. "We have a lot of parents who work in STEM fields."

She said examples of STEM career paths students will be exposed to through the program include manufacturing, design, engineering, biomedicine and even the arts.

The STEM program will be an extension of Olentangy's team concept, in which students in each grade level are split into smaller groups and take classes with those group members. Starting next school year, eighth-graders can opt to be on the STEM team.

Jones said students would still take the same core classes as others, but with a heavier focus on science and math.

She said the team concept allows students to work closely with one another and teachers and build meaningful relationships.

"We want to give every child the feeling of a small school," she said.

In recent years, state and federal governments have made efforts to improve STEM education to provide workers for high-paying jobs in STEM-related fields. Jones said although a lot of proposals to improve STEM education may focus on high school and college programs, middle school is the perfect time to start considering a career in a science- or math-related field.

"We offer a lot of great opportunities for students in high school. ... (The STEM program) is just part of the same big picture," she said.

The district was set to conduct an informational meeting about the program Wednesday, Feb. 12. Jones said parents who missed the meeting may call Shanahan Middle School at 740-657-4300 and ask to speak with her or Principal Josh McDaniels about the program.