School districts and educators across the country are scrambling to get fluent in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. The goal is to give every student relevant exposure to STEM at a young age, and opportunities to dive deeper into coding if they choose. It’s a logical response to the projected surplus of a million computer science jobs by 2020.
With or without extra STEM exposure, most students aren’t going to grow up to become software engineers and scientists. But STEM concepts and skills are also expected to enrich many non-STEM fields, including the arts: hence the new acronym STEaM.
At Online School Records, we have been on the ground floor of STEM initiatives in educational settings for over two decades, in the classroom, the boardroom and in a consulting capacity. There’s a massive opportunity, but also a lot of work: in order for kids to learn STEM, their teachers have to first. Partnerships have to be pursued, vetted and solidified with qualified outside programs and companies. Technology moves quickly, so cutting-edge programs can become outdated in a few years. There needs to be adequate funding, buy-in on the administrative level, and meaningful metrics and milestones to track progress.
Here are three school districts in the Hudson Valley that are doing it right, in our humble opinion:
Enlarged City School District of Middletown
This school district has invested heavily in STEM education and partnerships. They have a specialized “Academies at Middletown High School” program which offers pathways for high school students to study fields that they’re interested in. One choice is the Academy of Information Technology, which mixes direct IT courses in databases, networking and programming with more creative ones like graphic design, web design and video production. This Academy is enriched by a partnership with the Cisco Networking Academy, which offers curriculum support to over 9,000 schools worldwide.
Another academy choice is Project Lead the Way, which focuses on engineering skills and is driven by a national non-profit that provides STEM curricula and professional development for teachers in thousands of public, private and charter schools across the country.
Newburgh Enlarged City School District
With the Excelsior Academy, Newburgh has one of 16 P-Tech programs in New York State, which stands for "Pathways in Technology Early College High School." Launched in 2014, it’s a “school within a school” that goes from grades 9 to 14. Economically disadvantaged students graduate with a high school diploma, an Associates degree in Applied Science from SUNY Orange, mentoring from IBM employees, and the chance to get an IT job immediately, at no cost.
Outside of Excelsior, Newburgh is also pushing meaningful, open-ended tech experiences at younger ages with the opening/re-branding of the Vails Gate STEaM Academy this fall. They were chosen for a $1.25M federal grant targeting high-poverty districts; K-5 students (including dual-language) will be exploring a new curriculum that goes hands-on with skills like research, collaboration and problem-solving.
Wappingers Central School District
Like Middletown, WCSD is involved with Project Lead the Way. In this case, they’re offering college-level engineering classes at John Jay High School that count for credit at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The program includes classes like Design and Drawing for Production, Digital Electronics, Advanced Principles of Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Engineering Design and Development. That might sound dry, but one of the assignments this year was a “Halloween Animatronics Mini-Project,” where students designed and built Halloween props, set them up in the high school’s “haunted garden,” and recorded the kinds of reactions they got from their peers.
John Jay High School also offers a very up-to-date range of computer design courses. The courses range from Computer Aided Design (CAD), to computer graphics, web design and development using official Adobe training materials, and communications systems with audio/video training.
...students designed and built Halloween props, set them up in the high school’s “haunted garden,” and recorded the kinds of reactions they got from their peers.