Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Tommy Chang today joined leaders of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Boston After School & Beyond and community-based organizations to announce a significant expansion of BoSTEM, a city-wide initiative aimed at increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) after-school programming for up to 10,000 students in grades 6-8 who are typically underrepresented in STEM learning and careers.
United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley was awarded a five-year, $3.9 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education’s Education, Innovation and Research program to fuel the expansion of BoSTEM in the Boston Public Schools. Launched in 2015, BoSTEM is a proven collaboration between schools and community partners dedicated to engaging all grade 6-8 BPS students in STEM learning opportunities to help ensure they succeed in 21st century careers. “In Boston Public Schools, we’re preparing our students for the careers of the future. Some of the jobs our young people will have in five or 10 years haven’t even been invented yet, but we can make sure students have the tools and resources they need to succeed,” said Mayor Walsh. “Programs like these are so important to ensuring BPS provides a 21st century education for all, and I thank our partners for making this possible.”
The five-year, $3.9 million grant aims to increase student interest in STEM and STEM-related careers, as well as refine, scale and evaluate BoSTEM as a best practice for quality STEM education and college/career readiness. The goals of BoSTEM include reaching 10,000 grade 6-8 students over the next five years; increasing STEM interest and achievement; improving social and emotional competency and well-being; aligning curriculum and instruction across school and out-of-school time; and providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities with STEM industry professionals.
“BoSTEM’s hands-on approach keeps students engaged in the skills that will build relevance to today’s innovation economy and the increasingly technological world around them,” Superintendent Chang said. “As the Boston Public Schools works to narrow opportunity and achievement gaps, BoSTEM ensures that students from all backgrounds are getting important hands-on learning in STEM.” BPS will track student performance and work closely with BoSTEM partners to align in-school and after-school programming.
Students in BoSTEM will learn from a curriculum that is aligned with lessons both during and after school. This includes an online STEM curriculum, titled “Defined STEM,” which all schools serving grades 6-8 and BoSTEM programs will have access to over the next five years. Research shows when students view math or science favorably, their academic achievement in those subjects is higher, which further encourages them to pursue potential STEM careers. Yet the number of Boston eighth graders who report their favorite subject is math or science is one-half the rate reported by fourth graders. For many students, eighth grade is also the year when they begin to make course selections for high school that will chart their future career path.
“This significant investment from the U.S. Department of Education will help advance our goal of ensuring all students graduate high school ready for college and career,” said Michael K. Durkin, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Not all students have equal access to the hands-on learning that gives students the chance to apply math and science skills in exciting, real world contexts. BoSTEM brings together educators, industry and corporate partners, volunteers, government, and community-based organizations to prepare all of today’s middle school students in Boston for the workforce opportunities of tomorrow.” United Way will contribute $1 million over five years and has raised additional funds in partnership with IBM, Linde Family Foundation, JetBlue, and the Mass Biotech Council.
“BoSTEM is a wonderful example of how collaboration with the many businesses and community organizations in Boston can benefit our students,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael Loconto. “It’s important now more than ever that students are learning real-world skills in order to build successful careers in today’s ever-changing world.” Students currently participating in BoSTEM are overwhelmingly qualified as high-need students or economically disadvantaged. In addition, 92% of the participating students are African American or Latino, who are under-represented in STEM education and careers.
According to Change the Equation, a national organization dedicated to strengthening STEM education, the percentage of minorities in STEM careers remains virtually unchanged since 2001. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, African Americans and Latinos make up 48% of the overall U.S. workforce, yet they fill only 24% of STEM jobs. The Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress predicts that within the next decade, our nation will need one million more STEM professionals than it can produce. “Young people spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school, and this grant recognizes the importance of after-school programs in preparing students for future success,” said Chris Smith, Executive Director of Boston After School & Beyond. “By connecting the classroom to the community, BoSTEM will expose thousands of Boston middle schoolers to new experiences, relationships, and future career paths.”
Boston After School & Beyond will receive $1 million over five years to manage the program sites and coordinate professional learning for teachers and program staff. BoSTEM program sites will receive $1.4 million over five years for grade 6-8 STEM programming, and the number of sites will expand from eight to 12 over the course of this grant. Current BoSTEM program providers include: Breakthrough Greater Boston, Citizen Schools, CitySprouts, Community Boat Building, Latino STEM Alliance, Massachusetts General Hospital, Sociedad Latina, and Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center.
“These additional funds will allow community-based organizations like Sociedad Latina to better prepare students who remain underrepresented in the STEM field,” said Alexandra Oliver-Davila, Boston School Committee member and Executive Director of Sociedad Latina. “Through this partnership we will be able to provide these hands-on learning experiences that not only pique the interests of English Language Learners and Latino students, but also provide them with STEM opportunities that make them feel empowered and see themselves as agents of change in their communities.”
As part of the national grant, BoSTEM will undergo an independent evaluation over the next five years to ensure the effectiveness of a research-based model that can be scaled beyond Boston. The evaluation will measure interest and aspiration in STEM and STEM careers, growth and improvement in social and emotional learning (SEL), and academic proficiency and achievement in STEM. 1,710 students participated in BoSTEM across 27 program sites during the 2016-2017 school year and summer 2017. Program evaluations show 77% of all students reported positive gains in “STEM Interest overall” and 80% of students reported positive growth across the social and emotional skills of critical thinking, perseverance, and relationships with peers and adults.