As the global economy becomes more knowledge based, employers are searching for problem solvers and innovative thinkers — skills school district leaders in the Best Southwest Partnership region are working to instill in students through STEM-based curricula, activity-based learning and college and career-readiness programs.
“There are currently more STEM jobs that go unfilled than any other field and the U.S. is behind compared to other industrialized countries when it comes to STEM field preparation. Investing in STEM ensures many fruitful opportunities for our students which leads to a better quality of life,” says Beth Trimble, executive director of staff and student engagement at DeSoto Independent School District.
DeSoto ISD introduces STEM into the curriculum as early as pre-kindergarten. The district introduces robotics, which it dubs STEMspiration, at its Amber Terrace Discovery & Design Early Childhood Academy campus and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) at Meadows iSTEAM Magnet Academy, Ruby Young Medical & Environmental Sciences Magnet Academy, the new Frank D. Moates Digital Arts & Technology Magnet Academy and Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy — as well as at all three middle school campuses. The high school program allows students to explore careers in agriculture, health science technology, aviation, STEM and information technology.
“In speaking with industry leaders, one of the major concerns have been the lack of 21st century skills in their employees. In addition to teaching the content areas, our STEM programs also focus on 21st century skills,” Trimble says.
Ferris Independent School District students are actively involved in hands-on STEM and robotics activities beginning at the elementary level and continuing into junior high and high school.
“We have a STEAM lab for all students at our early childhood campus, and the ‘Smart Labs’ at Ferris Intermediate and Ferris Junior High are fully integrated learning environments with technology and curriculum that provides opportunities for students to work together to support hands-on, minds-on collaborative learning,” says James Hartman, Ferris ISD superintendent.
Ferris ISD begins implementing its college and career readiness programs at the pre-kindergarten level. ACT/SAT vocabulary and skills are being introduced in pre-K and carried through each grade level to increase achievement on college entrance exams. The district has also partnered with two local community colleges to provide mentoring, college awareness and college readiness at three of its five schools. Dual enrollment through which students can earn college credit, pre-Advanced Placement and Advanced Placement courses are offered at both the junior high and high school levels.
Ferris ISD also places an emphasis on integrating technology into the classroom at all levels. The district provides every student in grades 1-12 with a mobile device. Students in grades 1-3 are issued iPads, and students in grades 4-12 are provided Chromebooks.
Likewise, Duncanville ISD began a district-wide rollout in 2016 that will eventually equip all students in grades K-2 and provide laptops for students in grades 3-8. The district has invested more than $13 million in technology upgrades to its schools, including new laptops for teachers, interactive projectors and updates to the system’s wireless network.
Duncanville High School’s dual enrollment program allows students to earn a certificate or license in areas such as agriculture, construction, graphic design, fashion design, marketing, welding and culinary arts.
Cedar Hill Independent School District offers a collegiate program with a dual credit component in which students graduate with both their high school diploma and community college degree.
Ready for Work
Midlothian ISD’s Career and Technical Education program offered at Midlothian High provides pathways for students to careers in architecture, communications, business management and administration, education and STEM-related fields, among others. Job and career days are held on campuses to expose students to a variety of career options as they move into secondary grades where they can use college and career exploration software to begin planning for post-secondary education.
Hartman of the Ferris ISD says these types of programs not only help students and their families plan for the future, but also help plan for the future of the community.
“We’re implementing these programs to ensure these students will gain post-secondary skills, which will, in turn, provide for a better economic base in the community,” he says.