This is a continuing series of stories in which we are highlighting the winning Career Readiness Mini-Grant projects.

Nestled halfway between Philadelphia and Allentown in Upper Montgomery County, Souderton Area School District (SASD) reaps the benefits of proximity to urban centers while being situated in a semi-rural area. SASD includes six municipalities, which totals over 6,000 students in the district. One of SASD’s strong points is their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, which is a significant component of the schools’ curriculum. This focus is intended to provide graduates with the most relevant and marketable job skills.

In assessing their program, educators at SASD concluded that they could improve their current techniques and provide even better STEM preparation and job skills training by using a program called Minecraft Education Edition. Minecraft is a computer software game that’s currently very popular, and this educational version teaches students technical skills with a customized approach to individual students’ strengths and needs as they begin to clarify their future career goals. SASD was eager to get funding for this program, and the Career Readiness Mini-Grant funding was the kind of flexible support they needed.

Minecraft Education Edition is a virtual gaming platform that teaches students real-world skills such as problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and communication while also exploring technical skills like coding. It ties into a core mission of SASD: to excite students about STEM and prepare them for the workplace. In addition to these vital life skills, students are able to explore different career pathways by creating a virtual world, while simultaneously collaborating and reflecting with teachers and peers. As Geri Wilkocz, supervisor of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, describes it: students can now build a virtual world which will “require that they each take on roles and responsibilities that mirror real-world careers.”

The local labor market, as well as the national one, is in need of more skilled labor in the area of computer programmers. In addition to providing students with a deeper understanding about their general career options, SASD’s new technology program will be invaluable in producing greater numbers of students who are knowledgeable in STEM and can work in computer programming.

In addition to the Minecraft Education Edition, the Career Readiness Mini-Grant will support all fifth-grade students’ participation in a Career Pathways Day at their local high school. At this event, students will move through different stations around the school to learn about different potential careers.

The Career Readiness Mini-Grant has also helped the district form a working relationship with their Local Workforce Development Board. Currently, the reading material available for students is primarily focused on the high school and postsecondary levels, so the school district is working with their workforce board on communicating regional labor market data to a younger audience.

From software to field trips, the creative and dedicated educators of SASD are ensuring that students have every opportunity available to them for now and far into the future.