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Wyoming Classrooms Recognized For Taking On Real-World Problems


Five classrooms in Wyoming are being recognized nationally for inspiring change in their local communities through the creative use of STEAM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.


Selected from nearly 3,000 applicants, classrooms from Whiting High School in Laramie, Central High School in Cheyenne, along with New Castle High School and Wright Junior Senior High School are state finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The national competition rewards students and teachers for creatively addressing real-world issues.


In Wright, teacher Casey Van Sickle and her students want to make sure people in their community can easily and affordably access fresh food year round.


“There’s not a whole lot you can do with the weather. Between the winter and the wind, it’s really limited how much you can actually produce for your own family,” said Van Sickle. “So basically everything that we get here we are dependent on truck drivers and I think it’s time to do something about it.”


Van Sickle is also a mom. She said when she can’t get the healthy food she wants for her family in Wright, which only has one grocery store, she makes the 40 mile drive to Gillette. She said that’s time consuming and expensive. Inspired by urban farming practices where there’s limited access to fertile land, Van Sickle started to imagine a way to grow food locally.


“I want to take advantage of some modern farming practices, and bring that into our community so that we don’t have to be dependent upon the weather,” said Van Sickle. “We can just make it happen.”


The idea is to use a recycled shipping container to grow food in vertical towers. Van Sickle said with smartphone apps her students can control the water and lighting system, and she’s looking into using geothermal heating. Van Sickle said her students will even be able to collect data using smartphones that will allow them to fine-tune their farming practices.


Only one of the five Wyoming classrooms will move onto the national competition, and Van Sickle is up against a bunch of other innovative ideas. Just down the road in Newcastle, students are using thermal cameras and drones to map caves that pose a safety risk. Whether her class wins or not, Van Sickle said she would like to move forward with this project because food scarcity is an issue she believes people can work together to solve.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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