Riviera Beach Title I school's STEM makeover empowers kids to succeed
March 9, 2023
Howard’s second grade class is excited to see their new STEM lab in Riviera Beach’s Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School.

It’s Thursday morning and second grader Ka’leah Strothers is excited to walk into class at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School. She’s been waiting months to see the new classroom Florida Power & Light Company made possible as part of its STEM makeover grant, and now it’s time for the great unveiling.

There are news cameras in the hallways and important adults giving speeches in her school library, but Strothers can’t wait to see her new desk. Once principal Katrina Granger cut the blue ribbon outside the classroom doors, Strothers and her classmates stepped into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) lab, equipped with new computers, a rover and state-of-the-art 3D goggles that made Strothers feel like she was “anywhere in the world.”

“We’re going to work like scholars,” second-grader Daniel Williams said with a huge smile on his face. He’s excited to learn and play with the build-your-own rover and hydraulic machine kits.

The new class and learning materials were made possible thanks to FPL’s STEM Classroom Makeover Grant, a four-year, $1 million commitment to help expand STEM programs in Florida. Each year, five schools are chosen to receive $50,000 to transform a classroom with state-of-the-art technology, cutting-edge software and educational materials in hopes of increasing exposure to STEM education.

“This means the sky is the limit for them,” second-grade teacher Tracey Howard said as she looked at her new class. “There’s nothing they won’t be able to do, and this will equip them with STEM learning to explore different jobs in engineering or medical fields. It’s limitless.”

Howard has taught at the Title I Riviera Beach school for more than 18 years. She’s seen the impact a lack of resources and technology can have on students in her community, so she applied for FPL’s grant in hopes of providing them with a brighter future.

“You made this happen,” said Whitney Walker to a teary-eyed Howard. Walker is FPL’s senior community relations specialist overseeing the unveiling. “This happened because you saw a need and you found a way to fill that need for your students.”

The grant will also give Howard a chance to further her own education by helping fund a master’s degree in STEM education.

“This is a very exciting day as we unveil this newly remodeled classroom that, frankly, we would have struggled to complete on our own,” Palm Beach County School District Superintendent, Michael J. Burke, said. “Our students have an opportunity like no other. We have one of the world’s leading energy companies right in our backyard. Thank you to FPL for making your educational partners a priority.”

The eventful day was capped with a visit from dozens of FPL engineers teaching students how to build an electric generator. Children from grades two through five participated with glee.

“Here, we’re believing, building and blooming,” Howard said. “It’s like planting a seed and watching a flower blossom. That’s what the children are doing and that’s the reward of teaching.”