STEM/CTE programs preparing Central Louisiana students for tomorrow’s careers
After a full year of implementation, The Rapides Foundation is proud of the STEM/CTE programs that are now being offered in nine Central Louisiana school districts. The efforts to increase learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in career and technical education (CTE) are preparing students for success in the 21st century. The initiative is now in the second year, with districts continuously learning and improving on their plans to enhance student performance.
The partnership between the Foundation and school districts is addressing a national focus as well. This is something local education leaders recognize. “Science, technology, engineering and math are the drivers of tomorrow’s economy,” said Gary Jones, superintendent of Rapides Parish schools. “Those students who are not prepared in these areas will be unable to participate in tomorrow’s workforce. Scientific and mathematic literacy prepares students to be engineers of problem solving. Training students to think will help ensure financial stability in our nation.”
Recognizing a need for STEM/CTE initiatives in schools, the Foundation has provided close to $5 million since 2009 to districts to support these programs. District teams were formed consisting of superintendents, principals, math and science teachers, as well as technology leaders. Teams developed new program ideas, met with STEM experts and visited various STEM schools around the country to prepare for implementation in their respective districts.
School districts are also expanding and strengthening their career and technical education programs. CTE incorporates technology in the curriculum and can offer students a better understanding of STEM careers, giving students the encouragement to pursue a STEM-related career path.
The 2010-2011 school year marked the first full year of implementation. STEM plans included advanced leadership training and teacher professional development, expansion of advanced placement courses in math and science, and incorporating more technology, like social media, into classroom activities. Many of the districts’ plans for CTE aim to increase the number of industry-based courses offered, and provide professional development opportunities for the teachers of those courses.
“Our approach to developing the district’s STEM/CTE grant has been to build an educational system that will help students learn in powerful ways,” said Diane Marcantel, the district coordinator in Allen Parish. “This will enable them to manage the demands of ever-changing information, technologies, future jobs and social conditions.”
Allen Parish is working to build on the projects started last year. This includes additional training in two different strategies designed to help K-12 math and science teachers plan their curriculum and teaching methods: Math Perspectives and Understanding by Design Unit Development. Both are structured to help teachers develop quality performance tasks in the classroom. “Structures and strategies for instructing toward high levels of thinking, comprehension, and rigor will be weaved through each project,” Marcantel said.
The same emphasis placed on training teachers in new instructional methods is under way in Rapides Parish. Jones said they plan to expand the Discovery Learning Science Model and increase Project Lead The Way classes. Discovery Learning is designed for students to take a more hands-on approach to learning, such as group projects and hands-on experimentation. The Discovery Learning Science model will be expanded to seventh and eighth grades, and an additional eight elementary schools will be using the Discovery Science SCIENCE TECHBOOK instead of a regular textbook. The SCIENCE TECHBOOK is an online textbook that can be accessed on the internet from any computer. It is customized to Louisiana science standards and includes reading materials, interactive activities, quizzes and tests, along with teacher resources.
Project Lead The Way classes are also hands-on and based in real-world experiences. A robotics class is now offered at Bolton High School, and this year Project Lead The Way will be expanded to a biomedical course at Alexandria Senior High School. Project Lead The Way classes complement required science and math courses. The Foundation’s grant funding was used to provide technical support and professional development. Teachers who were trained became responsible for redelivering information to their home school faculties.
In addition to new course offerings and AP classes, Jones says the district is looking to expand the Aiken Virtual Program, which allows students to take online courses. Partnering with Aventa Learning, the expansion would offer all courses necessary for a high school diploma and TOPS requirements. Jones said virtual school opportunities would be made available to surrounding parishes as well.
Sheila Causey, district coordinator in Winn Parish, said technology is playing a big role in their STEM efforts. Students currently access Skype, email, Facebook and interactive websites in the classrooms. They are also using email and Facebook to contact soldiers in Afghanistan and to communicate with a classroom in China. United Streaming also allows teachers and students to quickly download and watch Discovery Education videos. Like many of the other districts, Causey said Winn Parish is looking at expanding their Industry-Based Certification course offerings. “There will be the inclusion of Career Ready 101 concepts and topics in existing courses and the introduction of WorkKeys testing.”
Causey cited support from the Foundation as a key element in her district’s STEM/CTE efforts. “The Rapides Foundation was valuable to the implementation of this initiative and without their assistance, it would not have happened. They provided financial support as well as training and technical support.”
The Foundation intends to continue its support of the STEM/CTE initiative through the 2012-13 school year. Although the Initiative is new to districts, planning teams feel confident of the benefits. “Any new initiative involves the unknown,” Jones said. “Since many of tomorrow’s jobs are not even created today, we are preparing students for problem solving and thinking rather than for specific careers.”
The Foundation is looking forward to seeing school districts implement strategies that will give students the skills needed to be successful and move forward in 21st century jobs. Armed with the resources and a broad range of STEM careers available, the opportunities are endless.