STEM needs increase in schools

Experts say science and mathematics curricula can help stabilize economic development in Catawba County.

According to educators, business leaders and community officials at Champions of Education's breakfast meeting Wednesday, science, technology, engineering and mathematics in K-12 schools will build a better business industry in the county.

"If investments aren't made in our students, we lose that development," said Lamar Mitchell, executive director for Champions of Education.

Mitchell discussed tough economic times for three school systems in Catawba County, especially with the possibility of more budget cuts from the state legislature.

"The schools need our help now," Mitchell said, during opening remarks at Wednesday's meeting.

One way Mitchell, as well as Dr. Todd Roberts, chancellor for the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, said the community can help its schools is by providing tools for students to learn STEM curricula.

Roberts said, according to research data, STEM growth is 50 percent of economic development in the United States. However, less than 17 percent of post-graduate degrees are in STEM fields, and 40 percent of those degrees are earned by international students.

Less than 30 percent of high school students are interested in the STEM field. Meanwhile, a large number of STEM professionals are at retirement age.

"In order to improve STEM education, there's going to have to be a collaborative effort in the community," Roberts said, adding school systems, with community support, need to hire more science and math teachers to enhance curricula taught in these subjects.

Mitchell highlighted areas in Catawba County's three school systems where the STEM curricula is being implemented, thanks to grants received.

Catawba County Schools

Math and Science Partnership (MSP) grant: This grant totals about $250,000 per year for the next three years to support kindergarten through fifth-grade science instruction, focusing on physics.

Through this grant, ACCESS or Assessing Core Content and Ensuring Success in Science was created as a partnership with CCS, the North Carolina State University Science House, the NCSU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, the North Carolina Center of Engineering and Technology and Appalachian State University. The program has 150 teachers who will receive at least 80 hours of professional development in science.

ACCESS will host summer camps each year, as well as two full-day follow-up sessions for teachers.

The Golden Leaf Foundation grant: Funds are about $250,000 for two years to focus on grades sixth through eighth. The grant will fund SEPUP or Science Education for Public Understanding Program. This program includes hands-on, problem-based learning. Also included in the funding is curriculum training for teachers; extension to Project Lead the Way at Jacobs Fork Middle School; more for the CyberKids program at other system middle schools; and STEM job fairs for middle school students.

Newton-Conover City Schools

Newton-Conover Health Science High School receives funding through the North Carolina New Schools Project. Money received totals $727,600, and includes professional development for teachers and leaders; coaching from the New School Project; funding for four teachers to become year-round employees; and to purchase new technology.

The Newton School is one of about 12 schools that are a part of the N.C. New Schools Health and Life Science STEM Affinity Schools Network.

Students in this network engage in engineering challenges and develop real-life solutions to problems. Students will also take at least 12 college-level credit hours, with some earning medical certificates.

The anchor school in the New Schools network is Center Medicine Academy in Durham, which is affiliated with Duke University Medical.

Hickory Public Schools

AppalSEED: This is a grant and partnership with Appalachian State University and Hickory High School for an after-school science program, which started in 2007.

In the first phase of the program, 10 HHS students each year will spend 27 weeks at ASU gaining technology knowledge from professors.

The second phase includes science teachers attending biotechnology summer workshops and then form a science club. This partnership led to biotech lab equipment and consumables worth $60,000 at HHS. The funds for the new equipment was provided through a grant from the N.C. General Assembly and administered by the Department of Public Instruction.