BELOIT — Nolan Otremba said his primary goal is to help each student to be prepared for the future while learning new, hands-on skills.

One of several major referendum projects in the Beloit Turner School District was to renovate its middle and high school campus. The project involved adding several new classrooms and offering more options in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).

Otremba, a teacher who oversees the wood and metals workshop at the high school, said the new spaces are helping students to explore career ideas.

“I want to make sure they have a plan to really move forward,” Otremba said. “A lot of these kids, they’re in these classes because they want to be in welding or engineering.”

On the grind

The STEAM project was completed amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Otremba said use of the brand new facilities has really picked up towards the end of spring as more students returned to in-person learning over time.

“The people have made it a good shop and made it fun. I love being in the shop and with the teacher,” said Zach Delabarre, a freshman student in Otremba’s welding class.

Despite some delays due to COVID-19, there were also some unexpected benefits.

As the high school students were learning in cohorts and a block schedule model, Otremba said they ended up long class periods, meaning more time to work on projects.

Instead of 45-minute sessions, this year the students could keep on the grind for about 90 minutes.

“They get to spend more time working on projects each day and not have to spend it cleaning up all the time,” Otremba said.

Before the new spaces could be opened to in-person learning, Otremba said he improvised by sending students home with a bundle of lumber each to work with. The students learned how to square up a building or frame a wall.

Exploring the arts

Across the hallway from the metals workshop is the art department, complete with kilns for pottery, more storage space for paintings and plenty of table space for art students to work comfortably.

Annie Dudgeon, who teaches art at the high school, said she and her students enjoy being inside the new workspaces.

“It’s a beautiful space, we really like the classroom culture that comes with it,” Dudgeon said.

Although a number of Dudgeon’s students remained virtual throughout the year, those she did see in-person would come to her regularly for feedback and reinforcement.

And with her online students, they would check in often over video. Dudgeon said she offered a variety of lessons using online drawing or digital painting programs with a recurring theme of positivity and mental health.

One of her students, Maura Spain, recently graduated and was the first Advanced Placement art student at the high school. They spent time together every day as Spain completed a portfolio of art themed after self-identity.

Sometimes Dudgeon would read aloud while Spain painted.

Another one of Dudgeon’s senior students, Hanna Schoville, explored her passion for art this year during a life-changing experience.

Schoville said that at one point in 2020, she struggled with remote learning and saw her grades slip away. She was concerned she would not be able to graduate.

She sought help from teachers who advocated for her, and soon after Schoville was able to return to in-person learning.

After that, Schoville immersed herself in artwork and created numerous projects, such as a stipple drawing of a sea turtle which was showcased at a state art show.

In time, Schoville’s grade reports showed As and Bs across the board, and she was voted “most artistic” alongside Spain in the school yearbook.

“I got a lot done. It changed my perspective on school,” Schoville said. “Art is like therapy for me.”

Major tech upgrade

Located nearby the art and metals classrooms are brand new spaces for engineering and computer science students to work their magic.

Kera Kroening, a tech ed student Courtney Fassel’s 3D printing class, said she wants to study to become a biomedical engineer.

Kroening said she and her classmates have enjoyed hands-on learning, and the new classrooms offer plenty of room to take on new projects.

“This is a really nice upgrade,” Kroening said. “Everyone that has seen it has really liked it.”

Kellyse Lutzow and Rylie Geister, who just completed eighth grade, said taking 3D printing classes was one of their favorite parts about school.

The classmates have been taking tech ed classes since sixth grade and have taken an interest in engineering.

Some lessons have involved designing tiny furniture replicas using online programs. Other projects included using 3D printing machines to bring different creations to life.

All robots, all the time

Fassel said she and her students are hoping to start up a new robotics club next year.

In the meantime, her students have taken on some exciting projects including a miniature race car competition and an end-of-the-year robot battle. For the battle bots project, students designed wacky contraptions with unique names and brawled against each other’s robots in an all-out fight to the scrap pile.

Some of Fassel’s high school level students also have had the opportunity to design their own video games in class for credit.

Fassel said she is proud of her students for continuing to work hard and is excited for the future at Turner High.

“We love it here. It’s nice to be able to have this room where we can expand our offerings,” Fassel said.