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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

STEM SCHOOLS SEEK COMMUNITY PARTNERS IN iLEARN

Strong community support crucial in STEM schools’ success

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Strong community support crucial in STEM schools’ success

Students, take a giant step forward.

For the first time, Caddo Parish students are beginning their first year of intensive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education at schools entirely devoted to STEM study.

Students in first grade at one of the six elementary schools (Caddo Heights, Midway, Werner Park, University, Turner and Southern Hills) have a chance to stay in a STEM school throughout their public school education. Two middle schools (Youree Drive and Lakeshore) and two high schools (Captain Shreve and Fair Park) have also been selected to offer 7,500 students the opportunity to jumpstart their chances of success in college and beyond.

A partnership between Caddo Parish and Discovery Education, the company responsible for the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Investigation Discovery, resulted in the consolidation of current STEM programs into the 10 pilot schools in the iLearn initiative. Everyone at each school will be actively involved in STEM’s new way of learning through hands-on labs, entertaining and education videos, and interaction with instructors who have been involved in the 18-month training, education and curriculum development phase.

In my opinion, the impact of the STEM program will be felt in prevention. The new direction the school system has taken under Dr. (Lamar) Goree is frankly better at addressing kids with a history of trauma. It is more welcoming.”

– Clay Walker

Caddo Schools Chief Academic Officer Keith Burton believes this cooperative effort is crucial in giving the 70 percent of Caddo Parish Public Schools’ 41,000 students who are economically disadvantaged a chance to excel.

“We are asking the community to take an active role in partnering, creating internships or advising students,” Burton said.

The 40 teachers and 20-plus administrators designated to work at the schools have some support from businesses and community supporters planning to enhance their educational experience and prepare them for jobs in an increasingly complex marketplace. Outreach efforts to business and community leaders to garner additional support will help shape and promote programs.

Junior Achievement (JA), a nonprofit organization heavily involved in teaching soft skills such as budgeting and social interaction, already has around 300 volunteers working with schools in Caddo Parish, including six of the 10 STEM schools, Nita Cook, JA’s president and executive director said.

“Volunteers talk to the kids about how they use math and other STEM skills in their jobs. They get the connection on how they can apply these skills in the real world,” Cook said.

“You can connect all STEM curriculum to the Junior Achievement curriculum,” said Nicole Brice, JA’s program director. “That’s where our country is going,” particularly with the growing emphasis in entrepreneurships, which Brice believes is at the forefront of new job creation. “Junior Achievement can basically keep these (high-risk) kids out of jail,” Brice said.

Clay Walker, the director of the Juvenile Services Department for Caddo Parish, believes STEM involvement may help students who otherwise lose interest in class, misbehave, dropout or become one of the 4,000 truants the parish deals with each year.

“In my opinion, the impact of the STEM program will be felt in prevention. The new direction the school system has taken under Dr. (Lamar) Goree is frankly better at addressing kids with a history of trauma. It is more welcoming,” Walker said. “They are doing their part to treat the kids rather than kick them out of school. So STEM and other innovations are going to do a better job at inspiring kids to stay engaged.”

STEM jobs are the high end of the pay scale for almost every field and the U.S. is underperforming compared to other first-world countries. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that just 16 percent of the members surveyed thought U.S. public school STEM education was the best or above average, while 46 percent ranked it below average. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tracks new college degrees in the world’s most advanced countries. The United States was ranked 39th in the OECD list of top STEM countries last year, according to the Web site Tech Insider.

Employers are heavily recruiting workers who have mastered STEMrelated jobs, said Dr. Cindy Moss, director of Global STEM Initiatives for Discovery Education.

“Many of the jobs in STEM are at the crossroads of old disciplines,” Moss said. The biggest obstacle in bringing existing trades and careers into the 21st century is lack of money and adequate training available for teachers, she said. No new funding is available to support the STEM schools because of budget cuts made in an attempt to recover from huge deficits. This “robs schools of resources to compete with the competition in the top STEM countries,” Moss said.

Because of this lack of additional funding, there will be no new materials available, and community support could make the difference in iLearn’s success, Burton said.

“We just need your time, your efforts and your support,” Goree said.

“We are going to start small,” Burton said. “We are going to have parents question new methods of assigning homework.” If parents or volunteers from the community want to help, “ask the principal to take a learning lab or, if you ever want to just pop in, please do.”

– Kathleen Ward

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