Published February 17, 2020
BLUEJACKET, OK – A tiny town in
northeastern Oklahoma with fewer than 350
residents, Bluejacket is the kind of community
that gets lost in the shuffle when educational
resources are doled out. The local tax base
isn’t going to generate enough funding to give
students the latest and greatest curriculum and
materials every year.
A couple of factors, though, have played in
Bluejacket Public School’s favor recently, giving
students like Gracee and John an inside track
for learning about regional STEM careers and
what it takes to find and fill these coveted jobs.
Gracee is a freshman and John is a seventh
grader, but don’t let their young ages mislead
you. Their sights are already peering beyond
the walls of school to the businesses that fill the
MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, 50 miles away.
The two factors that have made such a big
difference for these and other Bluejacket students?
- Their science teacher, Shawn Martin,
is a former pipe welder who took a
substantial pay cut when he returned
to college to do something he now
loves – impart practical knowledge on
hungry young minds.
- The MidAmerica STEM Alliance,
a regional STEM Learning
Ecosystem based out of the
Pryor industrial park, provided a
$25,000 grant for Martin and other
teachers to purchase a variety
of hands-on STEM materials and
equipment from Pitsco Education.
“That grant took our STEM lab to the
next level. Before that, I’d gotten some
small grants, $3,000 or $4,000 here
and there, doing little things. But that
$25,000 loaded up this room with 3-D
printers and laser cutters and the rocket
projects,” Martin said. “We have solar
cars, we have wind generators, a lot of
renewable energy resources that the kids
For example, Gracee and John joined
their classmates on the football field
last fall, not to toss the ball around but
to set up and launch water rockets they
had researched, designed, and built.
Confidence showed on their faces as
their rockets flew higher and straighter than
those their classmates sent skyward from the
AquaPort II launchpad.
“We tried to do it as close to step-by-step as
what it told us – where the fins needed to be, what
needed to be placed where,” Gracee explained. “As
for the water and the amount of pressure we put
on it, we tried to do it as close to 50/50 as we could.
That seemed to work really good.”
John said one of the secrets to his two-person
team’s success was applying what
they learned previously when creating and launching straw rockets to the more-challenging water rocket activity using one-liter
bottles. “That was like a learning step, and then
we took the straw rockets to the bottle rockets,
like how to get our wings the correct shape and
how to make it aerodynamic.”
While competing to create the best water
rocket in their respective classes, Gracee and John
tweaked their custom designs and builds in a
continuous improvement loop that is part of the
engineering design process. But one thing they
share in common is that they prefer to work with
their hands and troubleshoot along the way.
“Book work doesn’t really make me learn. Let
me figure out how to do something,” John said.
Added Gracee, “When we do STEM, I learn how
to build, and I like to use my hands on all these
projects. It’s just kind of a break from having to do
the book work in the classroom. I really like it.”
Martin takes every opportunity he can to
share examples of the real world where he
worked as a welder for 20 years. Students in
such a small community don’t often realize
what lies beyond the city limits, he says.
“They don’t always connect that Pryor is less than
an hour away from us, and it’s a huge opportunity
and all these factories are there. So, we literally went
and found where can they go and apply,” Martin
said. “We’re gonna start taking some of our seniors
and kids that have graduated in the last year or
two down there. . . . They don’t think about these
opportunities, or they are overwhelmed when they
go look at MidAmerica. It’s this huge place, and I
think it kind of intimidates some of them.”
Thanks to the MidAmerica STEM Alliance’s
financial support of 18 school districts in the
region, Gracee, John, and others are learning
at an early age that their future can be bright,
even if they opt to remain in their small towns.
“Being able to stay in the area and have a good
career would mean a lot to me because I would
be able to stay close to my family and still have
a good job,” Gracee said. “So, I can have both
family and a good career.”