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STEM Stars, food services draw attention of Verndale board

Secondary instructors Kelly Youngbauer, left, and Sheri Brewer gave a presentation of their STEM Stars project to Verndale school board members Monday night at their November meeting in the Media Room at the Verndale school. The project is aimed at students in grades 4-8. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal

A look at STEM Stars and a disconcerting review of food services inventory problems highlighted Monday's November meeting of the Verndale school board.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - four disciplines students can apply in carrying out a variety of projects. The ultimate goal of STEM education is to give students future opportunities at high-tech jobs in the working world.

After board chairman Marcus Edin saw a presentation given by secondary science instructor Kelly Youngbauer and secondary math instructor Sheri Brewer to parents of Verndale students the second week of November, he enthusiastically encouraged the pair to bring the presentation to Monday's meeting.

Aimed at students in grades 4-8, the program has enjoyed great popularity. The program was originally budgeted for 10-15 students but Youngbauer and Brewer have seen more than 30 students joining the activity.

By combining the four disciplines students have already created "Kaleidoscopes," "Bath Bombs" and "Magnetic Slime."

Using a projector, Youngbauer showed the board some of the future projects including "Truss Bridges," "Edible DNA," "Bottle Diver," "Crystal Ornaments," and "Robotic Hand" as well as eight others.

The popularity of the curriculum has created a need for more funding. Youngbauer and Brewer are currently looking for a portion of that funding from the Verndale Lions and from 3M.

"The limits are endless if you've got the funds," Verndale superintendent Paul Brownlow said.

Verndale's cook-manager Barb Brown gave board members insight into a negative balance in the food services budget first brought to the board's last spring by former business manager Brian Jacobson.

The board was told the school has $30,000 in food services inventory on campus.

Brown surveys (orders) from government commodities lists before a school year begins and deals with a food distributor. She does not have total control over the distribution of products used during the course of a school year.

"Your government commodities don't come when you survey them," Brown said. "Most of the stuff I had surveyed this year were supposed to come after January but in August and September they already started sending the lists. They already had stuff sitting there ready for us."

Other contributing factors in the negative balance have been a greater student population to feed, an open campus five days a week which varies the number of students who eat school lunch and both two-menu and Chef salad options.

"You're bringing in more product to sit around," Brown said

Board member Bill Blaha asked Brown if the present November inventory level is similar to past years but Brown could not provide a quick answer.

"It's kind of hard to do that because you don't bring in the same product so levels wouldn't be the same and the and price changes all the time," she said.

Board members Tony Stanley and Scott Vernonen joined Edin in suggesting ways of helping Brown alleviate the difficulties.

Brownlow also brought up the issue of safety. Having an excessive amount of product in a freezer of limited space has sometimes necessitated moving and stacking it over the reach of kitchen staff.

"If we have safety concerns that we are aware of we have to fix those like now," Blaha said.

Brown said she understood the concern but also one of the contributing problems.

"We don't have a freezer big enough to put things at safety levels," Brown said.

It was agreed that a plan to deal with the issue will be on the agenda at the board's February meeting.

"I will sit down with Barb and we will come up with an inventory control, it's still the biggest piece," Brownlow told the board. "We will probably check with other schools to see how they are maintaining and managing that inventory."