by Leigh Anne Van Doren
STEM educational opportunities critical to our children's future are shrinking due to budget cuts and the current reliance on standardized testing.
Assessments made as early as the 5th grade can close doors in the STEM area, especially if a student has an off day on a standards-based assessment test, says Merri Kae VanderPloeg, director of the Commonwealth Governor's School. "Large class sizes, lack of science facilities, and diminishing budgets equal students being short changed in science inquiry and project-based learning," says VanderPloeg.
The Fredericksburg region has many STEM options, but the cost of transporting students among the various counties for specialized courses has caused Stafford and Fredericksburg to opt out of a variety of educational programs.
The city of Fredericksburg has chosen to not participate in the year-long Commonwealth Governor's School program, offered in Spotsylvania, Stafford and King George; the state-approved Governor's Technical Academy, Stafford Academy of Technology (STAT) offering IT, Engineering and BioMedical programs; and the LPN course at the Spotsylvania Career and Technical Center. Stafford County Schools also has dropped out of the LPN program at the Spotsylvania Career and Technical Center due to the cost of transportation.
According to Marceline Catlett, Asst. Superintendent of Fredericksburg City Schools, no Fredericksburg city parents have expressed interest in the CGS or STAT programs since the original decision was made more than a decade ago. If parents are interested in adding these options for their children, they should contact the principal of James Monroe High School, John Gordon or go to scroll down to register for the Parent's Interest Group in STEM education.
What Can Be Done to Improve This Scenario?
According to VanderPloeg, parents need to press school districts to provide challenging STEM coursework in early elementary school through high school.
"Students with varied abilities need opportunities to pursue passions from video game design to entomology with more than a half hour weekly session. Students must have several opportunities to master concepts, be provided different instructional approaches, and be given the chance to prove their mastery through alternative forms of assessment" says VanderPloeg.
Want to Encourage Your Child to Do More with Science?
Adult role models can use these strategies to kindle a child's interest:
1. Enthusiastically share a passion by explaining the relevancy of science/math in a personal life career field...make it meaningful and relevant.
2. Explore the physics of skateboarding, design a park on the computer, track yardage of a football player, or investigate an ecosystem.
3. Play math games, such as Monopoly. Mental math boosts computational fluency.
4. Build structures with cardboard boxes, LEGOS, straws, etc.
If you have a daughter in the 5th, 6th or 7th grade, register for Science Saturdays.
Schools can support academic competitions which spark problem solving and creativity. LEGO Robotics, Mathcounts, Exploravision, and the Craftsmen Young Inventors Program. A majority of academic competitions have embedded state curriculum standards within the expectations of the project or competition; therefore it's a win-win for students and classrooms, says VanderPloeg If you are interested please go to www.fredericksburgparent.net to register for our Parent's Interest Group in STEM Education.
Need a way to incorporate Science into your 'Tween Girl's life? Fredericksburg Parent and Family Magazine proudly sponsors "Science Saturdays" for girls in grades 5-7. Watch this website for information on how to register your daughter for summer and fall sessions.