STEM program expanding to reach more military children

STEM program expanding to reach more military children

by Army News Service
Army News Service

SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service) -- Col. David Raugh's 13-year-old daughter aspires to work in aviation someday, possibly as an astronaut.

But being uprooted six times from schools as her family moved around the world hasn't made it easy. Pursuing academic interests can be a struggle for military children in situations like hers, her father admitted, especially in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Military family life can teach children useful skills and values like loyalty and patriotism, said Raugh, the 502nd Force Support Group commander at Fort Sam Houston.

"However, we need to acknowledge that these constant moves can impact their access to some educational opportunities," he added.

One way to improve STEM performance among military children, Raugh told a group of local and state education officials at a briefing Friday, is through the National Math and Science Initiative's College Readiness Program.

Launched in 2007, the nonprofit program is now in more than 1,000 schools across the country. As a result, program officials say, the performance among students in those schools on advanced placement exams has exceeded 10 times the national average.

Schools serving military children have also jumped on board, with more than 150 military-connected schools signed up and more funds available to expand to 200 in the next two to three years, said Matthew Randazzo, the initiative's CEO.

With all of its military bases, according to Randazzo, the San Antonio area was an ideal spot to spread the program's success to more military dependents.

"All kids can be a STEM student," Randazzo said. "I can't think of a better way to enter this market than by grading these proof points with military students."

Recognizing the need for more skilled professionals in STEM-related fields, the Defense Department has granted $23 million in fiscal years 2015 to 2016 to bring the program to more military-connected schools, he said.

"They've not only committed the funds, they've also been really important advocates in connecting us in base communities," he said.

In 2010, the program first came to military bases after former Army Secretary Pete Geren voiced concerns about Soldiers at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, being forced to send their children to private schools due to the inadequate public schools, according to program officials.

More schools joined, and the rest is history.

Burnie Roper, superintendent of the Lackland Independent School District, said he's interested in rolling out the program at his schools, but first he wants to get buy-in from the teachers.

"It's honestly something that I want to do, but I don't make decisions in a vacuum like that," he said after the briefing. "I know that if I don't get teacher input and their support, it's not going to be successful, because they're the ones who are going to have to deliver the program."

Under the initiative, teachers who instruct students from third grade to high school can take part in a Laying the Foundation Teacher Training Program, which coaches them on knowledge and instructional best practices and gives them classroom-ready materials and resources.

"I think it's about preparing kids for their future and, in our future, a lot of it is STEM-based with [new] technology," Roper said. "The more STEM we can get into our schools, the better for our kids."

According to Raugh, research shows that greater emphasis on STEM-related courses is helpful when students reach those middle and high school years when their enthusiasm for science tends to dip.

"This potentially allows us to stop this troubling trend," he said about the program coming to San Antonio. "This is a great opportunity, and we need to grab onto it with bulldog tenacity and not let go until this program is in place."

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