Microsoft Corp. has donated $45,000 to the West Des Moines School District, which the district will use to help expand the Project-Based Learning Network that it launched two years ago. The West Des Moines schools began the program, which was initially named New Tech Network, in 2016 for grades K-7 and have been adding one additional grade each school year. 

The donation -- which the district celebrated with a check presentation ceremony on Friday -- is the largest cash contribution that the West Des Moines schools have yet received for the program, said Justin Miller, thought partner and business liaison for the Project-Based Learning Network. Microsoft employees have also participated in hands-on projects with West Des Moines students through the program. 

"Microsoft has been a good player [in the program] the past couple of years," Miller said. 

The Project-Based Learning Network involves students as early as kindergarten in team-driven projects that better enable them to develop skills that they’ll eventually need in the workplace, among them problem-solving, communication and collaboration. In one project, Microsoft employees worked with an eighth-grade humanities class at Stilwell Junior High to critique an ad campaign the students developed aimed at keeping young professionals in West Des Moines. 

This fall, the district will add 10th-grade students from Valley High School to the program. The Microsoft donation will be used to complete some minor remodeling at Valley, purchase more collaborative classroom furniture and outfit some of the rooms with virtual reality equipment, Miller said. The funding will also assist in outfitting a double classroom with multimedia equipment for presentations suitable for hosting business partner visits. 

Finding business partners to participate in the program has gone more slowly than expected, Miller said. In an effort to recruit more partners, the district will host two events to introduce the Project-Based Learning Network to businesses. The first is April 17 at the Learning Resource Center, 3550 Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines. The Clive Chamber is hosting a June 5event as well. 

To read a Business Record Insider story about the program, click here.