A $20,000 grant will help Oktaha Elementary offer a STEM classroom for the district.

The Cherokee Nation recently awarded the Motor Vehicle Tax STEM Grant to Oktaha. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Cherokee Nation Public Relations Coordinator Taralee Montgomery said the grant is separate from the grants the Nation gives annually to schools within its jurisdiction.

She said the grant is awarded to encourage public schools to promote STEM programs "while incorporating Cherokee lifeways and values."

Oktaha teacher Lyndzi Bales, who applied for the grant, said she plans buy lab tables, work stations and a coding center. She said the elementary school started a STEM Club a couple of years ago and a robotics team this past year.

"We've been using a regular classroom and we've been using materials we've received from other grants," Bales said. "This one is by far the biggest and it will establish an actual science room. It's really cool."

She said she was notified in late June that the school had received the grant.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to start in the fall getting the room ready," she said. 

She said she hopes the classroom could be used by the entire school, "where they are able to come in and out of the room, like the computer lab." 

Bales, a speech/language pathologist at the school, said she wanted to start a STEM Club after driving her son to a robotics camp in Tulsa.

"I went to Mr. Needham and I said, 'hey, can we start something like that here,' and he said, 'if you're willing to do it, let's go for it,'" she said, referring to School Superintendent Jerry Needham.

Bales said she would like to use grant money for girls to attend engineering camps in the summer. 

She said she hopes STEM Club will "spark an interest in the skills I really think a lot of jobs are going to be moving towards as these kids get older."

Montgomery said the grants are based on the following criteria: project need, project design, value to Cherokee students, project work plan, budget and sustainability. Extra points are given for incorporating Cherokee language, history and culture, she said.

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