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STEM Programs Prep Students For Future In Southwest Dallas

Learn how innovative education in Southwest Dallas County and Northern Ellis County schools is preparing students for a competitive workforce.

By Teree Caruthers on August 19, 2016

Cedar Hill

Employers are looking for workers who possess not only the technical skills needed to accomplish a task, but also the ability to communicate and collaborate with others, make smart decisions and solve problems.

Fortunately, schools in the Best Southwest Partnership region of Southwest Dallas and Northern Ellis counties are a step ahead of workforce trends, equipping students with these valuable skills as early as kindergarten, ensuring graduates are ready for college, careers and the jobs of tomorrow.

Ready and Able

During the summers, when many high school students are flipping burgers for spending money, students participating in Cedar Hill ISD’s Project Elevate program might be interning at a pharmacy or getting paid to job- shadow doctors and nurses. This hands-on approach to learning is part of the school district’s curriculum rooted in STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. The curriculum emphasizes curiosity, creativity and problem-solving needed for college and career readiness.

The district’s philosophy is perhaps best demonstrated through its Collegiate School Pathway, which includes the Cedar Hill Collegiate High School, Collegiate Academy for middle school and College Prep for elementary school students. The district partners with local businesses, such as the Dallas IBX data center, to give students the opportunity to learn from business leaders how the organization operates and to explore the various facets of that industry.

“STEAM is really in all aspects of business because although you may not be in a lab, you still have creativity; you still have building; you still have the enrichment of understanding the science and the processes from the genesis of a project,” says Dr. Orlando Riddick, superintendent of Cedar Hill ISD. “I want people to know that we’re not here training all of our elementary students to be scientists, but we are training them to be curious. If science is the tool that’s utilized to make them curious and better problem solvers, that’s great.”

Hire Learning

The Collegiate School Pathway is just one example of how the region’s schools help prepare students for the workforce. Several high schools offer the intensive International Baccalaureate® diplomas, and charter schools like Newman International Academy in Cedar Hill offer college preparatory and career-focused instruction.

In 2012, Texas Instruments Foundation committed some $4.8 million to help the Lancaster ISD become the first school district in the region to implement a STEM-based curriculum district-wide. What’s notable about this accomplishment is that 79 percent of the student population in Lancaster ISD are economically disadvantaged, and 96 percent of the students are African-American or Hispanic.

In 2015, the district launched the Flying Classroom at George Washington Carver sixth grade STEM Learning Center at Lancaster Middle School. The virtual classroom introduces students to scientists and professionals in STEM fields and uses interactive learning tools to explore disciplines such as forensics and aeronautics.

Duncanville ISD offers several different career pathways within the STEM curriculum, including computer technology and maintenance, web design, digital media, engineering and electronics. Juniors and seniors in the engineering and electronics pathway are able to take some of their courses in the mechatronics program at Mountain View College and earn college credit toward a certificate or degree. The school district also partners with area community colleges for instruction and hands-on learning opportunities at the high school.

“STEM helps students with the integration of academics and career prep,” says Shalontae Payne, Duncanville ISD coordinator for career technology. “It truly shows students how to incorporate the math and science into the work they’re going to produce. It helps make that relevant real-world connection between what they’re learning in class and how they’re going to use that information in society and the workplace.”

College Prepped

Dual enrollment is also part of the DeSoto ISD college and career pathway for students. The district’s dual-enrollment agreement at Early College High School allows students, particularly minority and economically disadvantaged students, to get a head start on obtaining a college degree with transferable college credit. Ninety-four percent of students earn free college credit and 23 percent earn an associate’s degree while still in high school – increasing the chances that first-generation college students graduate with a degree and succeed.

“Industries looking to relocate to our community are looking at what type of workforce is available. I believe in order for our community to grow, we’ve got to develop those skills that are needed – whether it’s in engineering, communications, network systems, computer programming, accounting, electrical engineering – the list goes on and on,” says Dr. David Harris, DeSoto ISD superintendent.

“We have an obligation to ensure we’re preparing a workforce that can go off to college and can come back and work in our community and help grow our community and help industry and businesses come back to the community,” Harris says. “That’s what our focus is. How do we bring the best of the best back and continue to build our community?”

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