This past Saturday, SLPS students from kindergarten to high school were speaking the latest new language: CODING. At the first-ever Lego Robot Rumble, nearly 100 elementary school students worked in teams to create animal robots, and demonstrated how they exhibited their team’s core values of respect, honesty, and collaboration. On the high school level, robotics teams from Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, McKinley and Gateway STEM high schools successfully competed in regional tournaments, picking up awards for a range of efforts.
“We want students to experience the joy of problem-solving together and to see the real-world applications of what they are learning in the classroom,” notes Associate Superintendent for College and Career Readiness, Dr. Beth Bender who is coordinating a number of STEM initiatives in the District. Thanks to generous funding from SPIRE and Boeing, SLPS is taking a more strategic approach to STEM learning across grades K-12. For the past year, a team of math and science curriculum specialists have met to develop a district-wide STEM strategy. “We knew there were pockets of great things happening across the District. Our job is to determine how we can maximize those efforts and develop the right leadership, curricular and school support to have our students excel,” explains Angelia Rougeau, SLPS Secondary Science Curriculum Specialist and lead planner for the STEM strategy. The strategy team has been mapping current STEM efforts at schools, formalizing partnerships with universities and STEM companies, visiting school districts that excel in STEM, such as Parkway and Mary Institute Country Day School, and identifying exemplary STEM leaders in the schools. This summer, funding from SPIRE will support more intensive professional development for math and science teachers, in partnership with Washington University’s STEM TQ efforts.
According to a recent study, Underrepresented Minorities and STEM, the nation’s STEM workforce is no more diverse now than in 2001. And, despite a plethora of STEM jobs and accelerating job creation in STEM fields, the report states that “we are starved for STEM talent in the United States: currently, only 8 percent of STEM degrees earned in the United States are awarded to African-American students and 7 percent to Hispanics.”
“One way key way to change the narrative is to expose our students to opportunities in STEM,” notes Tanisha Joyce in the District’s College and Career Readiness Department. This spring, under the leadership of Joyce, every 7th grader will visit a St. Louis company to learn about everything from HR departments, to IT, to executive leadership. St. Louis has many opportunities for students to learn about STEM careers, and visits are being planned to BJC, Boeing, the National Geospatial Agency, Monsanto, and SPIRE.
At the high school level, SLPS is making progress to intensify STEM efforts. According to research from the Office of Civil Rights/U.S. Department of Education, one of the key barriers for low-income students of color in pursuing STEM careers is that: “only 48 percent of high schools with high black and Latino student enrollment offer college-prep level math and science.” At SLPS, a grant from the National Math and Science Institute is allowing the District to offer more high quality AP classes in Biology, Chemistry, Algebra and Calculus at seven SLPS high schools.
This fall, thanks to funding from SPIRE, the SLPS Foundation also launched the InSPIREd STEM Innovation grants: classroom grants designed to spark teachers’ ability to offer experiential approaches to learning STEM. In Mr. Hovis’ class at Cleveland High School, students are applying math skills to coding and creating 3D models with the use of a 3D printer. “My students love the challenge; this has brought new life to the class,” he said. Science teachers at Yeatman Liddell Middle School teamed up to expose students to a range of hands-on learning activities at Shaw Nature Reserve, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and the Racing Academy of St. Louis. On two Saturdays this spring, Hodgen Tech 6th graders will lead their families and visitors in a range of STEM activities. The InSPIREd grants are also supporting robotics teams at McKinley and Gateway STEM high schools. While students are winning competitions, the value of these efforts is more enduring. As one student reflected: “Robotics has turned my life around. I have met so many people, gone to places I would never have the chance to go to otherwise, and made great friends. I have also gained a lot of confidence. Robotics has fostered a new-found passion for engineering.”
In a community as rich in STEM companies and research institutions as St. Louis, the District plans to continue its work in ensuring all students get a chance to try, test, and dive deep into STEM possibilities. “St. Louis Public Schools’ innovative approach to STEM education is incredibly important to making sure today’s students are ready for the jobs of tomorrow,” said Tim Goodson, vice president, field operations, at Spire. “We’re proud to support their mission of providing accessible and meaningful learning opportunities for students as they explore career paths.”