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Nonprofit WA STEM Celebrates Progress

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SEATTLE (AP) — A campaign to help Washington kids go from fearing — and sometimes flunking — math and science to embracing careers that require technical skills is celebrating its first anniversary this week.

So far, nonprofit Washington STEM has given out $3 million for programs that will reach about 16,000 children around the state, and is reporting modest, but measurable progress.

The interim CEO of STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering and math) says more kids have accepted the idea that jobs that require science and math might not be boring.

“What does high quality STEM teaching and learning look like? That’s our challenge from here on out,” said Sandi Everlove, who has been in charge of the organization since June.

Everlove and other supporters say their work is important because the majority of future job opportunities will require math and science proficiency.

Washington STEM is focusing on how to make the leap from test scores that show a majority of Washington young people are not meeting the state standards in science and math to jobs that require those skills.

Their grants look a little scattershot so far, but Everlove says some of that is by design. They need to figure out what works and then find out how to scale that up so many more kids get the benefit of those discoveries.

It’s not entirely clear how a $475,000 grant to Teach for America, which offers an alternative fast track to teacher certification, will lead to better math and science education. Everlove says their agreement with Teach for America is that the money will be used to train some STEM teachers.

Other grants are already getting some results.

A much smaller grant to tiny Cape Flattery School District on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula is helping successful high school students motivate middle school kids to get serious about science and math. Washington STEM gave the district $5,700 to pay for some expensive science field trips including a trip on a science research vessel, where students did marine biology work.

Ann Renker, principal of both Neah Bay High School and Markishtum Middle School, credits a combination of things for helping her students show improvement in both science and math test scores — from zero students passing the high school science exam in 2005 to 55.6 percent meeting the standard in 2010, and from 4.3 percent passing the math exam in 2005 to 47.6 percent passing in 2010.

Principal John Seaton of Clover Park High School in Pierce County also called the Washington STEM grant of $9,600 part of a bigger plan to transform science and math learning at his high-poverty school. Teachers are using the grant to develop a new hands-on algebra class that supplements traditional learning.

The school has also received grants from the Gates Foundation and the federal government, to help them develop a STEM academy.

Seaton said test scores have gone up — although most kids are still not passing the statewide science test — and college attendance rates are similar to the cross-town high school with a lower poverty rate.

Lynnwood-based EdLab Group used a $23,500 grant to give middle school girls from Pasco, Wash., an opportunity to try out some high tech careers at an afterschool and summer program.

After using a 3-D computer program to create pop-up books and design clothes, 72 of the girls said in a survey that they are likely to take more technology classes in high school and many said they were headed toward high-tech careers.

Washington STEM emphasizes business involvement in the classroom as one way to help kids understand how much they could benefit from trying harder in their math and science classes.

For example, Seattle engineering company Lease Crutcher Lewis worked with a group of kids in Tacoma over 12 weeks and gave them the engineering problems they needed to tackle. The kids did their own math and then took a field trip to the building they helped construct.

The associate director of the University of Washington Institute for Science + Math Education says it seems like Washington STEM is off to a good start but the true test will be how far the successful ideas can be spread around the state.

“We’re missing so much potential in society by the way we limit access to opportunities to learn. It’s dramatic in schools that are disproportionately serving minority and low-income students,” said Andrew Shouse.

Washington STEM says its next group of grants will be used to set up regional networks in Spokane, Yakima and south King County.

– Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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