The skills needed for today's jobs are very different from those required just five years ago. Technical expertise and critical thinking skills are major requirements for employees of the 21st century, and the trend is predicted to accelerate.
From the president to education experts and executives at major companies, everyone is sounding the alarm that the United States continues to fall behind in these areas. It is becoming a national priority to educate and train our children so they can compete in the global market. They all point to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and career and technical education (CTE) as the vehicles to make sure students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce.
The Rapides Foundation is taking a lead role in Central Louisiana. It will provide grants to the nine Cenla school districts to begin the planning process to incorporate STEM and CTE strategies into their schools. The districts are using the planning grants to explore best practices, and learn from communities that are already successfully preparing students.
“For almost a decade we have been working with the school districts to improve student achievement,” said Joe Rosier, the Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “Our main focus has been to build leadership skills in schools and in the district offices, and to improve classroom instruction in math and literacy. The Foundation is committed to continuing those partnerships, with the future emphasis moving to STEM and CTE. It is critical that are our students are prepared in those areas, so that is where we will provide funding opportunities.”
The Foundation believes this issue is far-reaching. It organized a STEM/CTE Summit in January to bring together area business and community leaders to hear from experts and educators. They became part of the dialogue about Cenla’s readiness for the future. And they recognized that STEM and CTE really impact everyone: employers, workers, educators and people in all our communities who care about making sure school districts meet the challenges ahead.
Wilma Hamilton Delp, a nationally recognized educator and lead technical assistant for the Foundation’s Education Initiative, said that support will be key to the district’s success, and she recognizes the important role the Foundation plays.
“The Foundation is truly a trusted partner. Funding is always an issue for districts, and now in these uncertain economic times it’s especially critical,” she said. “The Foundation's financial support is important, but even more vital is how it serves as a conduit for information to the districts -- providing opportunities for them to reach out to other places -- to learn from districts and schools that are successfully implementing STEM and CTE programs.”
Community and business leaders just started to scratch the surface to learn more about the importance of science, technology, engineering and math and career and technical education at the Foundation’s STEM/CTE Summit on Jan. 21.
For the nine Central Louisiana school districts, the community presentation was just one small part of an intense two-day planning effort. Each district selected a team to participate in this process; made up of superintendents, curriculum specialists, science and math teachers, guidance counselors, school board members and parents.
Ron Akins, Rapides Parish district coordinator for the Foundation's Systemic Initiative, said the summit was a great opportunity to hear from the experts -- Dr. Ray McNulty and Jim Brazell, both nationally known for their work in these areas. As a result of the presentations, the district team was able to begin the process of developing a vision for STEM/CTE in Rapides Parish schools. “Our team's goal at the Summit was to explore in-depth where we need to be in five years and how we'll get there.”
Teams explored their district's strengths and weaknesses related to STEM/CTE. They brainstormed what will be needed to help them prepare students at all levels to be competitive in the workplaces of the future. For team members, the Summit highlighted the urgency of redesigning high schools to meet those challenges.
Phyllis Thomas, the Foundation's Systemic Initiative coordinator for Natchitoches Parish, said, “There is still much work to be done, but our team felt like much was accomplished.” They left the Summit with a vision, communication and learning plan, completed a gap analysis specifically relevant to their district, and set a date for their next team meeting. “Our district thinks STEM/CTE is important because the jobs of the future are focused on those skills, and national research has proven that students are leaving high school unprepared to pursue a career in these critical areas of need.”
The Foundation will provide a planning grant to each district so the teams can research STEM/CTE programs, speak to experts in these fields, learn about best practices and visit communities that are already rising to the challenge and successfully preparing their students.
During the next nine months the teams will complete their planning efforts and prepare comprehensive strategies for implementing science, technology, engineering and math, and career and technical education into their districts' curriculums.
The Foundation is committed to supporting school districts’ efforts throughout this journey. Once the planning phase is complete, funding will be provided so districts can focus on major, multi-year grant opportunities to implement STEM/CTE projects.
• Association For Career And Technical Education
• Converge: Preparing for Careers in Cutting-Edge Science
• Louisiana Department of Education: Family, Career and Technical Education, Career Options