Huffington Post: How We Can Solve the STEM Crisis Through Innovation

Huffington Post: Impact June 18, 2013

How We Can Solve the STEM Crisis Through Innovation

Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools and Executive Chairman of US2020, shares how we can solve the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) crisis through innovative solutions like increasing the number of STEM professionals who mentor students.

"America, it's time to solve the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) crisis. Great scientists -- innovators like Edison, Einstein, and Rachel Carson -- think outside of the box. They look at the natural world in novel ways, opening new pathways forward for humanity. Why should our approach to STEM education be any different?" Read the opinion piece.

Student Success Depends on Hope

The 2011 Student Gallup Poll revealed a shocking reality about American kids. Only 54% of students have hope that their future will be better than the present. The poll surveyed approximately 1 million children from grades 5 through 12 from 2009 to 2011. The poll defines student "hope" as the belief that "the future will be better than the present, and that they have the power to make it so."

According to Gallup, hope is a better predictor of student success in college than a high school GPA or even ACT and SAT scores.

Yesterday's Education Week article takes a closer look at Gallup's measurement of student hope and engagement and their effect on academic achievement.

To measure engagement the poll asked kids to what extent "they feel safe, important, and acknowledged in their classrooms." According to the article, overall engagement was high.

However, a significant dip in engagement takes place in middle school. Shane Lopez, senior scientist at Gallup, said students feel less valued and recognized in middle school than in the younger grades.

Perhaps most notable from the article is that according to Lopez, student hope has almost no correlation to family income. Regardless of socioeconomic status, only half of American students believe that they have what it takes to be successful in the future. What happened to hope? Where are the dreamers?

Hope is vital to a student in middle school, which is arguably the most critical time for kids to be engaged and excited about learning. Poor kids might not even realize what they are up against. As middle and upper class kids experience sports, camps and enrichment programs they have a chance to build up their hopes and dreams for the future. But for poor kids who don't have the same opportunities, what will become of them?

Kids need mentors. Kids need more time to learn in an active, hands-on environment. Kids need to get their hands dirty. They can't hope or dream something if they can't see it. By providing all students with more access to caring, successful adults and changing the look and feel of the school day, American kids can find the hope they've been missing. Hope, after all, is what this country was founded on. We can't give up on it.

The Kids Teach the Teachers

Libby Monahan is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, MA

The thing that attracted me to Citizen Schools the most was that not only are they working on closing the achievement gap, but they also recognize that the achievement gap is much more complex than just academics. They work towards closing an opportunity and access gap as well.

I work as a Citizen Teacher Lead for the Orchard Gardens School. So I have the opportunity to work with all of our students and teachers, and work with our apprenticeship programs, to provide that access and opportunity to our students.

My team of students last year challenged me to be a teacher, and they taught me how to be a teacher. One of my closest students to me, her name is Julienette. And I would credit her with being the student who taught me how to be not only a teacher, but just a providing and caring adult for a student.

Julienette was one of those girls who ran with the popular girls, and you know, she thought she was too cool for school, was consistently getting D’s and F’s in all of her classes, and couldn’t have cared less. No matter how much I pushed her, she was not budging.

So, one day, I was down in the main office doing door duty, and she was with her tutor, and she walked away from her tutor, came into the office, sat down in the chair next to me, didn’t say anything, and just started crying. And I had no idea why. I was right out of college, and never had a student sit there and cry to me before, so I was very out of my element.

And she just told me she had been being bullied, and that’s why she wasn’t caring about school. It was her best friend that had been bullying her, and peer pressuring her into doing negative things...

That presented me with an opportunity, and a window, to really provide impact in one student’s life. And since then, I paid for her to go to our Thompson Island Summer Project program. I’ve worked with her throughout the summer; I’ve worked with her throughout the school year, and really became more than a teacher. I became a mentor to her.

And I think I’ve seen change in her from over the summer, and I see change in her this school year, and it’s just a good story to tell when you think about the work that we do, and that it’s not only about getting their grades up. It’s about helping them become whole people, and that’s why I do the work that I do.