STEM Makes a Difference

November 11, 2008 2 min read

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering that improvements to school programs can make a profound difference in young people’s lives.

That thought occurred to me when I met with a group of ambitious students at the Chesapeake High STEM Academy, a public school in Essex, Md.

This is not a fancy suburban school, but one that shares many characteristics of urban schools.

The half-dozen students—most of them seniors at the school—described to me their lofty career goals, such as medicine and biomedical, electrical, robotics, and civil engineering.

They are pursuing those goals by taking a host of courses in AP subjects and following the national Project Lead the Way curriculum, which aims to boost preparation in science, technology, engineering, and math.

It is unlikely that these students would have had much of a shot at those goals, at least not at that school, if they had started there three or four years ago. Back then, Chesapeake High School, as it was known then, was “a school no one wanted,” according to Joe Hairston, the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools.

In an interview, he said several hundred teenagers in the school’s attendance zone were enrolled in other high schools because their parents did not want them at the low-performing Chesapeake.

When the district received $1.3 million from the Maryland government to create a STEM academy, “people thought I was crazy when I chose Chesapeake,” he said.

Hairston brought a new principal, Maria Lowry, to the school and stocked it with AP courses and technology.

Innovations at the school include hands-on approaches, such as using bottle rockets to study trajectory. Some AP teachers record lessons as podcasts, which their students can listen to using the Zen mp3 players that the school has issued them.

Chesapeake has also become a focal point for a partnership Hairston has established with local defense contractors to develop high-tech experiences for students that teach academic content while mimicking the operations of the companies.

Read my story in Digital Directions on this effort. You can also see a video of a portion of my interview with Hairston.

“We can’t continue to look at learning in a vacuum,” Principal Lowry said of the partnership.

The approach of infusing academic learning with its real-world applications shows students why their studies matter, she said. “You can give me a key to a door knob, but until I put the key in the lock and try it, it’s a mystery. I don’t really know that it works.”

One student commented, “We’re coming out of this school with some skills that people who study at college don’t get.”

It will be worth keeping an eye on Chesapeake, to see whether this STEM academy might be cutting a key that works for other schools, too.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science Opinion The Three Most Effective Instructional Strategies for Science—According to Teachers
Three science educators share their favorite instructional strategies, including incorporating a sense of play in their classes.
9 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Science Make Science Education Better, More Equitable, Says National Panel
States must take steps to ensure that all students get a fair shot at learning science, says the National Academies of Science report.
3 min read
Illustration of father and child working on computer.
Science Q&A Many Schools Don't Teach About the Science of Vaccines. Here's Why They Should
Schools play an important role in confronting misinformation and mistrust in vaccines by helping students understand how they work.
7 min read
Ainslee Bolejack, freshman at Shawnee Heights High School in Tecumseh, Kansas, prepares to receive her first COVID-19 vaccine on May 17, 2021, at Topeka High. Unified School District 501 held a clinic at all their high schools welcoming students now 12-years-old and up to receive their vaccination.
Freshman Ainslee Bolejack prepares to receive her first COVID-19 vaccine on May 17, 2021, at Topeka High School in Kansas. Unified School District 501 held a clinic at all its high schools for students 12 and older to receive their vaccinations.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
Science Letter to the Editor Science-Score Declines Have Impact Well Beyond the Classroom
Science understanding is valuable not only for careers in STEM but also for students' critical thinking and analytical skills.
1 min read