By KYLE SCHWAB, The Oklahoman
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A group of Oklahoma City educators smiled and high-fived after experiencing the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum's interactive tabletop tablets in the STEM lab.
The two dozen educators gathered on the first day of their fall break to take part in the announcement of a new partnership between the Oklahoma City school district and the memorial during the 2016-2017 school year.
The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/2eaGddR ) reports that the program, Called2Change, will have every Oklahoma City ninth-grader experience the memorial, museum and Uncover-Discover Lab free of charge.
Unveiled last year, the Uncover-Discover Lab is a state-of-the-art classroom where students learn about forensics and engineering related to the investigation and recovery efforts after the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
"The STEM lab was amazing," said Shyanne Gatrost, the ninth- and 10th-grade counselor at Harding Charter Preparatory High School. "We got to look at different evidence and place it in different categories. That was very interesting, and I loved the hands-on part of it."
Complete with seven oversized tablets, the lab presents a hands-on experience geared toward exposing students to the many different careers in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
After the bombing, engineers helped locate victims in the building and made it safe for rescuers to go inside.
"The students were not born during the time of the bombing so just getting to tour the museum and then come in and play around with evidence and learn about the structure of the building and why it collapsed and what we can do differently. So there's a huge learning component, as well as the hands-on," Gatrost said.
Oklahoma history is a high school graduation requirement taught in the ninth grade. Shannon Schenk, an Oklahoma history teacher at Centennial Mid-High School, said she is excited to go beyond the classroom in teaching her students about the bombing.
"The huge tables here are fabulous. I wish I had them in my classroom," Schenk said. "It combines social studies, science and math all in one area. The hands-on learning will be a great opportunity for them."
The freshmen students will be able to start attending the museum through the program immediately. Schenk said she plans to take her students in January.
Memorial officials and program sponsors spoke of their excitement Monday during a news conference.
Kari Watkins, the memorial's executive director, said, "This means that every ninth-grader in Oklahoma City Public Schools will come through this museum, see this story, learn the lessons from what happened 21 years ago and how they're relevant today, and understand how they can be called to change in their own lives, in their own school environment, in their own world where they live.
"This has been a passion and a love, making sure the school district in which we live knows this story. Now more than 3,000 kids will come through this museum and understand this story."
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora also spoke Monday.
"As a school system leader, it's important that we teach kids reading and writing and math, but at the end of the day, we want them to also be great, well-rounded citizens," Lora said.
"So teaching them about their history and the heritage of Oklahoma, and also our expectations for what Oklahomans do to help and support each other through tragic times, is a really important thing for us."
The program is being sponsored by OG&E Energy Corp., AT&T Oklahoma, and ONE Gas. Collectively, the sponsors are donating $35,000 this year.
"The school district is going through really tight budget times right now," Lora said.
"For our generous sponsors to step forward to take care of the admission fees and the transportation to make this happen for every kid is really special."
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com