Recently I participated in an Arizona Aerospace & Defense Workforce/STEM Summit hosted by the Aerospace Industries Association. I was on a panel discussing how the aerospace industry and k12 education can work together to prepare learners to work in STEM related professions. As I was listening to various panelists throughout the day, I thought about how to get more students in Maricopa County exposed to more STEM experiences. One place where we can start is with high school seniors.

As a former high school teacher I am bothered by the idea of high-achieving seniors opting into a half-day schedule during their final year in school. This feels like a lost opportunity. Understandably, some students choose to use this time to work and earn money for college or to support their families. However, I know many students make this choice because they do not have options more compelling than working at Starbucks. This results in good strong students opting out of the equivalent of four and a half months of free education.

Many schools talk about offering high-interest enrichment classes for students but run into the barriers of funding and a shortage of staffing. But what if we removed those barriers?

What if we offered a class to seniors dedicated to designing rockets to compete in Team America Rocketry Challenge?

What if we offered a class dedicated to building a robot?

What if we offered a class dedicated to building a video game arcade cabinet from a Raspberry Pi? (This needs a different description. Only the geekiest of geeks will know what this is!)

A class dedicated to restoring a car?

Or better yet, give students a voice around their own education; survey students on their interests, then develop a course based on their input.

Instead of forcing these tasks to fit into a curriculum, the project, its challenges, and solutions will drive what students do. The teacher can serve as a guide to inspire and motivate and take this journey WITH the students.

Frequently, these types of experiences are relegated to after school classes complicating student participation due to sports, work, and family activities. If this were offered during the school day student and teacher engagement would increase.

My office works with hundreds of STEM professionals that would jump at the chance to support such programs. Highly skilled men and women who are more than capable and willing to volunteer to teach such classes. Given the right collaboration, companies might also be willing to provide scholarship money for students as an incentive to participate, thus reducing their need to use those hours to work.

By working with our business community, we can engage more students in STEM experiences. We can keep more students engaged with their school community longer, better preparing them for a rigorous workforce. We can create the schools we want for our students but struggle to make a reality.


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