Local educators fans of STEM teacher corps

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 20, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
Local educators are in favor of President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of plans to roll out a national STEM Master Teacher Corps.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The $1 billion project would begin with 2,500 teachers: 50 from 50 sites across the country before expanding to 10,000 teachers within four years.
The teachers, who would receive up to a $20,000 stipend for a commitment of four years, would be tasked with promoting and expanding STEM education.
Members of the STEM Teacher Master Corps would also develop lesson plans and strategies to improve teaching along with hosting mentor programs and professional development for their peers.
The U.S. Department of Education would work with businesses, nonprofit groups and school districts to select teachers for the program.
“Educators are one of our nation’s greatest resources,” said Lisa Wear, director of the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s Horizons Unlimited. “President Obama’s plan to create a platform for collaboration between teachers, government and business partners is a move in the right direction as a growing demand for STEM skills and competencies is evident across the economy.”
Wear called the move a “vital sign for our nation and an important step in opening doors for all students.”
“Investment in a STEM Master Teacher Corps will impact every child every day,” she said. “STEM skills are resilient in changing markets and technologies.”
Dr. Marcy Corjay, dean of science, biotechnology, mathematics and information technologies at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, said the president’s plan is an excellent idea.
“We need folks on the ground who are excited about STEM and who are therefore effective teachers of STEM,” she said. “The United States is at a critical state right now as far as being able to produce STEM graduates.”
Corjay said students with boring math or science teachers could end up checking out of the subjects completely. It could be because a teacher lacks passion for the curriculum or it’s outside of their comfort zone.
“Very often those attitudes come across in how they teach,” she said. “I think it’s important that we have STEM teachers who convey enthusiasm to the students.”
Kevin Garay, principal of A.L. Brown High School, said he approves of Obama’s idea to have teachers leading teachers.
“I think he’s on the right track for sure,” he said. “The actual teachers are the ones who are really shaping the students regardless of grade level.”
Garay also likes that the STEM Master Teacher Corps will have the ability to reach students of all ages and all areas.
“I think this will help level the playing field,” he said. “Part of the state and certainly part of the county have very little knowledge of what’s going on with STEM.”
A.L. Brown has ties to the North Carolina Research Campus and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A new STEM wing was completed at the school last year, Garay said.
“Other areas are not as fortunate,” he said. “I think a national effort is really going to impact some of these outlying areas that have very little exposure to STEM.”
Corjay agrees with Garay that it’s vital to make sure all students are exposed to adequate STEM education.
“It’s really going to take something that impacts students from K-2 and beyond,” she said. “It’s too late to start in high school.”
That’s why Rowan-Cabarrus is hoping to secure a grant to partner with Catawba College to train highly-qualified STEM instructors. The fellowship program would allow Rowan-Cabarrus students to complete their education degrees at Catawba College and commit to teach STEM subjects.
“This very much parallels the federal initiative described by Obama,” she said.
Rowan-Cabarrus is also playing host to a variety of STEM camps to appeal to a wide range of students.
“We just hosted a weeklong camp with students from A.L. Brown to provide exposure to STEM,” Corjay said. “They engaged in various hands-on activities and got a chance to discover career possibilities.”
Garay said 10 students at A.L. Brown could also get an opportunity to do a yearlong internship at the Research Camp if a grant comes through.
“They would be trained by researchers on campus and then go to the elementary schools in Kannapolis and do mini lessons and labs with students there,” he said.
The school will also add rigor to its current STEM offerings by developing honors level curriculum for bioethics and research along with ecological science courses.
Three of A.L. Brown’s engineering classes will take on Advanced Placement (AP) status, allowing students the chance to receive college credit.
Knox Middle School will launch a variety of STEM courses including biotechnology, honors environmental and earth science, integrate math I and a foreign language.
And Wear pointed out a numerous of STEM initiatives that will take shape throughout the district that include a focus in engineering, nutrition, the environment, space exploration and forensics.
She said Horizons Unlimited will also offer STEM programs that are aligned with the “new and more rigorous” state curriculum standards.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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