(St. Paul, MN – January 17, 2018) – Cuyuna Range Elementary School (CRES), located in
Crosby, MN and a member of Crosby-Ironton School District 182 has been named the winner of the inaugural 2018 STEM Innovation Award. Principal Kurt Becker applied for the award on behalf of Cuyuna Range Elementary School. The STEM Innovation Award is presented in partnership between the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA) and the Science Museum of Minnesota. The new award gives principals the opportunity to share innovative programs and/or projects in their schools. An “innovation database,” created from entries for the award, will be made available to MESPA members, helping schools across the state replicate their colleagues’ successes.

In reviewing applications for this year’s recipient, the award committee comprised of
representatives from MESPA and the Science Museum of Minnesota looked for evidence of the impact on the school community, the replicability of the project, the project’s inclusivity and support of diversity, and the project’s sustainability and potential for growth. There were nine impressive applications for this year’s inaugural award, showing the breadth and depth of innovation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) taking place in schools all across Minnesota. Cuyuna Range Elementary School’s winning STEM Innovation project is a two-pronged program that includes a “Tech & Innovation” class as part of their specials rotation as well as an afterschool and summer program called “Bright Futures,” which features activities such as First
Lego League, Rocketry Club, Destination Imagination, and Camp Invention.
“The old saying goes something like this,” Principal Kurt Becker wrote in his application; “‘If you give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day. If you teach a person to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.’ The question is, ‘What’s the best way to teach someone to fish?’ At Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby, we believe the best way would be to put a fishing pole in the person’s hand, take them to the lake, teach them some basics, and allow them to use a growth mindset to develop their own fishing skills. It is this philosophy that is at the heart of our STEAM program at CRES.” “We started our STEAM initiative when we recognized the need to supplement our core classroom instruction with programming that would help students foster their skills in communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and perseverance; the skills employers will be looking for. Our STEAM program began back in the winter of 2014 with a 4- week after-school engineering class that drew a grand total of 7 students. Even though the turnout was less than great, we knew we were on to something big. Since that time, our STEAM program has grown exponentially to now include all 535 K-6 students during the school day, and well over 100 students in our after-school and summer programs.”

CRES has been able to see the impact their program has even in something like which books are being checked out from the library. Since the program debuted, they have seen the number of books checked out pertaining to STEM careers and topics drastically increase. “One bit of anecdotal data that has stuck with us involves a former student who was in 6th grade when the program started, and has since moved on to the junior high. While in sixth grade, this student took an interest in CAD (computer-aided design) designing and 3D printing. Any chance he had, he was in the Creative Café designing and printing. This was a student who struggled in the traditional classroom. His grades were not reflecting his ability, and he really had little interest in traditional schooling. However, the STEAM program made coming to school much more appealing to him. One day, he approached Ms. Larsen, the Tech & Innovation teacher, and said he now knew what he wanted to do with his life. He told her he wanted to become a biomedical engineer. Ms. Larsen talked to him about his dream, and how he could make it come true. She addressed the need for him to make sure that he is working hard in the core subjects as well. He found a new purpose to schooling. This happened two years ago. This past year, Ms.
Larsen happened to run into this same student at the junior high. He asked her if he could send her the plans for an item and wondered if she could print it on the 3D printer for him. It turns out that he had invented something and was seeking to get a patent on it. In order for that to happen, he needed a prototype, and Ms. Larsen was more than happy to print that prototype for him. Without our STEAM initiative, none of this would have happened.”
Principal Kurt Becker will be recognized at the MESPA Institute awards banquet – The MESPYs – in Bloomington, MN on February 8, 2018. Joanne Jones-Rizzi, Vice President of STEM Equity and Education at the Science Museum of Minnesota, will present the award. In addition, the Science Museum of Minnesota will provide free programming to students and staff at Cuyuna Range Elementary School.
The Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association is dedicated to promoting and improving education for children and youth, strengthening the role as educational leader for elementary and middle level principals and collaborating with partners in education to assist in achieving those goals. For more information, visit the association’s website at The Science Museum of Minnesota has a 100-year history of bringing science learning to life through hands-on exhibits, giant screen films, and unparalleled educational opportunities for all ages. For more information about the wide range of education programs for school groups, teachers, kids, families, and adults, visit the museum’s website at

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