The introduction of a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) elective at Sedgwick Junior High has prompted art teacher Annie Werth to place more emphasis on broader lessons this year.

Having the art element in the bag, Werth turned to her home life for inspiration on the first project for her STEAM class. With her son's school having done a blessings box in the past, Werth recognized a number of STEAM elements in that project. Shortly after that realization, the Cardinal Community Box project was born — a project the Sedgwick Junior High STEAM class has been working on since the start of the semester.

Split into three groups (technology, builders and spokespeople), each STEAM element is covered by at least one group. The technology group is managing the website chronicling the design process, while the builders will do most of the hands-on work (with the help of Sedgwick High School shop students) and the spokespeople are garnering support for the project, having already gotten a commitment from the school board to help with funding and working with local organizations to settle on a location for the box to be placed.

"The main thing was I wanted them to get real world experiences," Werth said. "Going out and talking to the right people to get something started, the board members, that's a real life experience — advocating for something they want to do. I wanted the kids, also for real world experiences, to create something. I'm hoping that those kids who are interested in the building part of it end up taking shop next year."

More than 20 students signed up for the STEAM elective this year, with all of them given the option to choose what group they would be a part of on the Cardinal Community Box project. Working together, the goal is to have the box completed and installed in the community before the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Werth.

On top of giving the students chances to practice real world applications of STEAM lessons, Werth noted she also wanted to offer a project her students would feel good about completing.

"I wanted them to learn how important it is to help out our small community and what it feels like to accomplish something that they can be proud of, and that they're also helping other people along the way," Werth said. "I wanted them to have a memory and something they could see as the years progress and know that there's something in this community that they made, to be proud of it — just knowing that they're giving back to the community and people who just need that extra help that week or day or month."

For Werth, STEAM is a new realm for her to teach, so she is learning along with her students this year, but they and fellow school staff, parents, etc. have been extremely receptive to the idea so far. The class will also be leading a food drive later on to help fill the community box initially — and keep it stocked as needed.

While having a little different name, the Cardinal Community Box will operate much the same as a blessings box to help provide nonperishable food and other items for those in need. Putting her students in the driver's seat of this project, Werth is hopeful the lesson is one that will stick with them.

"Their mission statement for the Cardinal Community Box is 'take what you need; leave what you can,'" Werth said, "and I think that's just a really good, important lesson as well."