The challenge for education today is to prepare students for 21st-century jobs. That’s my challenge as I begin each day as principal at the School of Science & Technology (SST), a high-performing, tuition free STEM charter school system in San Antonio. In a technology-driven world, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) must be a significant part of instruction each day at every grade level.
Last year coding was introduced in all SST kinder classrooms, and it continues and progresses through each grade level. This allows all SST students to grow up as “coding natives” who understand coding in the same way that you or I may understand how to drive an automobile. With pre-K being added to our campuses this year, STEM will be integrated in playful and purposeful ways for our youngest students. And that’s just the beginning.
The STEM focus increases significantly in fourth grade after students have developed strong foundations in reading, writing, and math. The intensity and joy of STEM grows each year, reaching new heights during middle school and soaring in high school. Projects continue to build in rigor as students progress through the SST curriculum. Students may start by attaching solar panels to small motors, later building solar remote control cars, and in high school building a full-sized solar car that students actually get in and drive.
In sixth grade, SST students explore STEM through FUSE where they select projects –building a laser security system or a roller coaster, for example – and receive a kit developed by Northwestern University. Students put what they have learned into a project-based learning experience and solve challenging real-world problems with teachers acting as learning facilitators.
Currently students are creating many exciting new projects: in one instance students are utilizing a brain-computer interface to control an electronic wheelchair for individuals with limited movement of their limbs. Students are also working with Enable the Future, a nonprofit group, to engineer 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children in need of them.
One group of robotics students is even working on creating a smart horse shoe that will keep biometric information on race horses so that owners can assure the health and safety of each animal. This group of students was inspired by a news story about a race horse that died during a race.
By empowering students to create projects in which they see value, SST has effectively placed student learning in the real world and assured that SST students never have to ask, “Why are we learning this?” because the answer to why this knowledge is important in the real world is evident in the project itself.
This experience will expand in the 2018-2019 school year when SST opens a new campus in northwestern Bexar County. A 3,000-square-foot Maker Space will be an integral part of this new campus and will become a standard addition to all SST campuses. The Maker Space will provide the opportunity for students to explore their STEM interests, learn to use tools and materials, and develop projects relevant to life in the modern global setting.
SST has been serving students and families for more than a decade and has developed a record of high achievement. That achievement is reflected in the SST high school being consistently designated as one of the Best and Most Challenging High Schools in the United States. One-hundred percent of SST students are accepted into four-year universities, and while most remain in Texas for college, many have gone on to attend and graduate from some of the most prestigious and competitive universities in the country including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Naval Academy, Columbia University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and many others.
Even with all these science, technology, engineering, and mathematics credentials, the most distinctive feature of every SST still has to be the feeling of community within our walls. Each campus is self-described as part of the “SST Family,” and if you are lucky enough to have won a spot at one our schools in the enrollment lottery, you know exactly what that means. A great ratio of staff to students assures you will have the feeling that you know everyone and everyone knows you. This also contributes to a high degree of school connectedness with students believing they are at a school where people care for them and where they belong. They say it takes a village to educate a child, and SST certainly feels like that village to our community members.
The current workforce cannot fill the thousands of high-paying, high-demand jobs in Bexar County, and so employers must recruit outside Bexar County, Texas, and even the United States to fill these positions. My goal, and the goal of SST, is to change this one student at time.
It all begins in small schools with curriculum integrated across content areas and provided by caring, dedicated, professional teachers. A strong triad of educators, parents, and students together create a nurturing and challenging place to learn and grow. To learn more about the School of Science and Technology please visit our website at www.sstschools.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.