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Ryan Bullinger and Skylee Bailey

Hess Corporation donated 24 trucks and STEM kits to Liberty Elementary School. On Monday, fourth-graders Ryan Bullinger and Skylee Bailey constructed an ATV track, complete with sand affixed to cardboard, a handmade bridge and small plastic trees. The students were tasked with creating a 2-by-10-foot track, with two obstacles, a bridge and a ramp.

Hess Corporation plans to donate more than 8,000 toy trucks to North Dakota elementary schools to help incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, into classrooms.

Liberty Elementary School is the first school in the state to experiment with the new trucks. On Monday, state officials and Hess representatives visited with Marcia Dorrheim's fourth-grade students, who had set up displays with the trucks and the accompanying ATVs and motorbikes.

The Hess toy trucks have been a Christmas staple since 1964, when the oil and gas company first sold the trucks to families.

Each year, a new model of the truck is developed. But, in 2016, Hess decided it wanted to do something different, according to Mike Turner, the company's senior vice president of production. Hess partnered with Baylor College of Medicine to develop STEM curriculum to go along with the trucks, which is geared toward grades 4-6.

"We think STEM is a very important part of growth of any individual," Turner said. "Also, let's face it: We're an oil and gas energy company, so STEM is a pretty important part of our job creation that we try to do in North Dakota."

Turner said North Dakota is a "central hub" for Hess, with more than 500 employees in the state and a long history, as Hess drilled North Dakota's first oil well in 1951.

"This is our home, so we want to make sure our kids learn, and if they turn into engineers and work for Hess someday, that'd be great," he said.

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said the trucks will be beneficial to schools across North Dakota. The curriculum includes several lessons that explore practical transportation issues, including fuel efficiency, kinetic energy for producing motion and motorsports.

"They're a lot more than great toys," Baesler told students on Monday. "We used to just teach (STEM) by reading about things, looking at pictures of things. Now, we're understanding how important it is for kids to uncover, to discover, to reveal, to learn, to build, to make. And that's why this donation is really important."

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who visited Liberty on Monday, said the trucks align with two initiatives in the governor's office: education innovation and workforce development.

"This is another tool that we want to use to encourage you all to be able to stay here when you grow up and have families and find a fulfilling career," Sanford told the fourth graders.

As a library media specialist at Liberty, Jan Schmidt works with teachers in their classrooms to incorporate skills needed to be a 21st century learner, including critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Students are more engaged and understand the material better when they are given the chance to play and experiment, according to Schmidt.

"To understand force and motion, they need to be able to experiment with force and motion," she said.

Each elementary school in North Dakota will receive a set of 24 trucks with associated STEM curriculum. In January, Hess will ship the trucks and STEM kits to each elementary school.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter