MADISON, Maine — Students in Madison are using innovation in their every day class curriculum to learn to solve real-world problems.

It’s part of the STEAM program, similar to STEM, and stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. The program is offered throughout SAD 59.

It's made possible due to an EMBRACE grant from the state's Department of Education to promote innovation in Maine schools.

The sky's the limit with what schools can do with the grant. Literally.

Sky and trees drone photo

This year, middle school students worked with University of Maine undergraduates, flying drones. In addition to learning how to fly the drones, the students discovered how to navigate and chart a course to a specific location which is helpful in tackling forest fires or rendering first aid.

"[We] come out here with these students and work hands on with them to apply real world applications of what they can use science and technology along with engineering, arts, and math [to do,]" said UMaine senior, Brandon Dixon.

Madison students technology

Students also used 3-D printers to learn how to print a prosthetic hand. They started with the basics by using plastic straws to create fingers.

"We learned how to bend it and stuff just like a normal finger," said Maci Belanger, one of the students involved in the program.

Belanger is an 8th grader at Madison Junior High School. She wants to go into the medical field so for her, this experience in the classroom is invaluable.

"Somebody could come into our school, and we could possibly print them a prosthetic finger so that they could work," added Belanger.

New this year, students are running an aquaculture lab in the basement of the junior high school.

There, students learn to grow sustainable food using nutrients from the fish they breed.

Fish picture

Currently, the food is sold to one local restaurant and given to a food pantry which is also run in the school's basement. Next year, they expect to sell some of the food back to the school’s cafeteria.

Katherine Bertini organizes these programs for three school districts including Madison.

"I think innovation is going to have to be the fundamental cornerstone of what education revolves around [in the future,]" said Bertini. "It started when we had a change in our economy. We had the Madison paper mill shut down and schools started to reinvent themselves. The need to bring innovation in our small, rural schools is so needed in order to bring job opportunities for our future generations."

Bertini can see the difference innovation in the classroom makes on students like Belanger.

"I learn[ed] how to help someone if they need it and it gives me a basis on how to help them," said Belanger.

The lessons she has learned in her eighth grade 3-D printing lab are ones she said she'll carry with her as she pursues a future career in medicine.

Bertini said the goal of the program is for these students to continue to innovate in the classroom and hopefully bring some of what they've learned back into their rural community.

Bertini was also named 2019 Somerset County Teacher of the Year for her work with the STEAM program and innovation in the classroom.