In Washington’s Most Diverse District, STEM Opportunities Provide New...


In Washington’s Most Diverse District, STEM Opportunities Provide New Paths to Success

By Dr. Tammy Campbell     Aug 2, 2017

In Washington’s Most Diverse District, STEM Opportunities Provide New Paths to Success

This article is part of the guide: What Personalized Learning Looks Like Across the Country: The 2017 Fifty States Project.

Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) is the most diverse district in the state of Washington, serving 70 percent scholars of color. Current statistics show that scholars of color and females are underrepresented in STEM fields across the country, and so FWPS is actively taking steps to provide STEM and STEAM (STEM with an emphasis on the arts) opportunities for each scholar from kindergarten through high school graduation.

This is because at FWPS, we believe our scholars have the talent, experiences, and ideas to change the world. We know STEM and STEAM project based learning will empower scholars with the skills they need to be successful in college, career, and civic life.

Our commitment to STEM education is reflected in the district’s Strategic Plan Goal 5, Persistence to Graduation, which measures the percent of scholars who have STEM/STEAM experiences. Here are some examples of how FWPS prepares each of its 23,000+ scholars to compete for these 21st century high-wage, high demand careers.

Career pathways

In order for scholars to graduate prepared for STEM/STEAM college and career experiences, they must be shown a path to get there. FWPS has 39 schools divided into four areas. Each area feeds into one comprehensive high school with a variety of Career and Technical Education STEM/STEAM pathways including computer science, engineering, environmental science, health science, and manufacturing and construction. STEM/STEAM experiences are vertically aligned for all K–12 scholars beginning with elementary school exploratory learning opportunities, middle school introductory college-preparatory courses, and high school college-preparatory, industry aligned courses that prepare scholars for post-graduate trade school, college, and beyond.

FWPS continues to expand STEM/STEAM pathways by integrating computer science curriculum through Hour of Code and Sphero robots. Hour of Code is an introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code, and illustrate anyone can learn the basics of coding. Each year, teachers and scholars all over the district explore the basics of computer science, STEM careers, and/or skype with STEM/STEAM experts in the field. In the 2016–17 school year, over 7,000 scholars from all FWPS participated in Hour of Code.

FWPS intentionally engages scholars that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields by partnering with the Ignite Program, which provides mentors and internships for scholars at Microsoft, Boeing, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and other local companies.

During the 2016–17 school year, FWPS had over 300 female scholars from its four comprehensive high schools attend “Women in STEM” field trips at Microsoft and other technology companies and participate in panel discussions with women from the technology industry.

STEM Exploration Night

In the spring of 2017, FWPS brought STEM experiences and local companies directly to scholars at the first annual STEM Exploration Night. Over 3,000 scholars, families and community members had a chance to visit more than 80 booths including Boeing, McKinstry, Google, Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center, Hexcel, University of Washington Tacoma and Highline College. The goal of STEM Exploration Night was for scholars to walk away with knowledge and direction in whatever career path they choose. Other opportunities included a chess tournament, hack-a-thon computer coding challenge, robotics demonstrations, and examples of class projects and school clubs. Events like these can change the trajectory for scholars, and spark an interest in a subject area they had not previously known existed.

Problem/Project based learning

Problem/Project Based Learning (PBL) is at the core of the enhanced teaching approach where scholars develop solutions to real-world challenges. This involves group work to solve authentic problems, choice and independence, technology as a learning tool and a focus on college, career and civic readiness. Instead of teaching English, math, history and science independently, projects often weave multiple subjects into the same learning experience. This approach lends itself to prepare scholars to be contributing citizens through thinking, collaborating, and problem solving and leading as they see connections between subject matter.

FWPS will increase these efforts by ramping up STEM/STEAM PBL at three school sites starting in the 2017–18 school year. This will foster scholar choice, personalization, and high interest to provide a unique environment to stimulate retention, achievement, and first hand experiences with STEM/STEAM careers of the future.

PBL also includes partnering with community business and industry leaders, and delivering presentations to a panel of experts. Over the next two years, Nautilus and Woodmont K–8 schools will intentionally integrate STEM/STEAM project based learning opportunities into current curriculum that will provide enriched and enhanced experiences. Recently, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee visited Nautilus K–8 and Thomas Jefferson High School to learn more about FWPS’ STEM/STEAM efforts.

In addition, Saghalie Middle School and the TAF Academy will merge to become TAF@Saghalie. TAF Academy is a grades 6–12 school co-managed by FWPS and the Technology Access Foundation (TAF). TAF Academy’s student demographics represent the district’s demographics who largely serve students of color. Since its opening, TAF Academy has developed into an award winning school with 95 percent on-time graduation, 100 percent college acceptance and 91 percent college entrance. For five years in a row, TAF Academy has received the School of Distinction Award. The merger of TAF@Saghalie aims to increase scholarly achievement and postsecondary preparedness using an award-winning model.

All three of these FWPS designated lighthouse demonstration sites will support the district’s efforts to create a K–12 “STEM Region.”

Afterschool and summer programs

FWPS ensures learning opportunities are provided to scholars after school and throughout the summer months. The Leap4Kidz program offers STEM activities for scholars from kindergarten through high school in robotics, horticulture, gardening, and Lego construction. Scholars engage in different challenges each session that build skills in fine-motor coordination, engineering, robotics, and computer programming including the Sphero robots.

Camp Invention is a weeklong summer enrichment program that partners with schools across the country to reinforce the traditional school year with STEM concepts through inquiry-based, hands-on engagement for eighth graders transitioning to ninth grade.

Washington state ranks No. 1 nationally in the concentration of STEM jobs and FWPS wants its scholars to start preparing now to access these college and career opportunities. Scholars are never too young to start learning how fun and rewarding STEM experiences can be.

Dr. Tammy Campbell serves as Superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools in Washington.

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