Metro Schools to receive $3 million to grow STEM opportunities for middle school girls

GrowSTEMbanner Metro Schools is preparing to kick off a multi-year commitment to growing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in middle schools that will reach students in the classroom, after school and at home.

Funded by a $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, middle school girls and other students who are underrepresented in STEM programs would be given more opportunities and more encouragement to explore them.

The new program, called GROW STEM, is built around a strong STEM curriculum with hands-on experiences, giving students more time for learning and engagement, and mentors who can encourage them to reach higher .

“We have several STEM programs in place now at various schools, but given the growing opportunities for graduates to learn and work in STEM fields, it’s time to expand their scope and reach,” said Interim Director of Schools Chris Henson. “We are grateful to the federal government for investing in such an important area of study for our students, and I am proud of our staff for presenting a winning grant proposal that clearly demonstrated the benefit our students will receive from these funds. I am very excited for the students. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and it will open a lot of doors to the future.”

GROW STEM, which stands for Girls Realizing Opportunities With STEM, and it will target seven middle school programs starting in the 2016-17 school year:

  • Stratford STEM Magnet (grades 5-8)
  • Isaac Litton Middle
  •  Croft Middle
  • McMurray Middle
  • Oliver Middle
  • Goodlettsville Middle
  • Madison Middle

Each of these schools feeds into a high school with an established STEM program through the Academies of Nashville: Stratford, Overton, and Hunters Lane.

By reaching students starting in fifth grade, the program will build early interest in STEM subjects, awareness of the opportunities in STEM fields and a foundation of knowledge students can take to high school for advanced and more specialized learning. While all students can take advantage of and will reap the benefits of GROW STEM, many of its components will be aimed specifically at female students with a goal of increasing the percentage of females in STEM Academies, STEM courses and advanced math and science courses. This can be accomplished by improving girls’ interest in STEM fields, increasing their knowledge of STEM career opportunities and building self-confidence to pursue and succeed in them.

“While we certainly want to show these young women the opportunities available to them in studying STEM subjects, it will take more than just awareness,” said Dr. Kris Elliott, director of STEM for Metro Schools. “We must connect our female students with STEM role models they can relate to, successful women who will inspire our students to pursue and succeed in anything they choose – including STEM. In order to reach our students on a more personal level, this program will include in school and after school programs that involve their families.”

The main components of the program include:

  • Fun, engaging and hands-on classroom instruction based on projects and problem solving
  • Afterschool Girls STEM Club at participating schools, meeting twice a week for two hours
  • Saturday STEM Sessions at participating schools four times each school year
  • A two-week STEM Summer Camp at the three participating high schools
  •  An Annual STEM Showcase for middle school students to present research projects
  • Female mentors for middle school girls, including high school and college students studying STEM subjects and professionals working in STEM fields

The mentors are one of the strongest components of GROW STEM, with their participation woven into the afterschool clubs, Saturday sessions and summer camps. They will work with middle school girls to talk about what they study, why they do it and to show them the opportunities available to everyone – boys and girls – in STEM fields. Added to that, GROW STEM has a marketing effort baked in that will recruit students into the program and help build supportive environments at school and at home.

“The reasons why girls are underrepresented in STEM subjects are complex, so we must do our part to make these programs more attractive and welcoming to them through a variety of approaches,” said Elliott. “We can do that by successfully engaging students in school, but we know home life is also important. We plan to work with our family involvement and community engagement teams for outreach to families so they can better support their daughters’ engagement in STEM.”

The key to making GROW STEM sustainable, and securing the grant funding to begin with, is a network of partnerships with local organizations and businesses. They will support the program by working with students as mentors and guest speakers, working with teachers to help tie instruction to the real world and providing material and financial supports. Several of these partners are already in place, such as the Nashville Technology Council, the STEM Innovation Hub and many local universities. Contributions from partners are helping contribute to the 15% community match that the i3 grant requires.

“Our partners have been essential to growing STEM opportunities for several years,” said Henson. “The Academies of Nashville and the PENCIL Foundation have already built a huge network of more than 200 business and community partners already supporting STEM programs in our high schools, and we plan to continue building on this with a focus on how they can further our STEM aspirations.”

The first GROW STEM programs will start in the summer of 2016, with more to follow in the 2016-17 school year:

  • Summer 2016 – First STEM Summer Camp; teacher professional development to learn the new curriculum
  • Fall Semester 2016 – New curriculum is offered during regular class time; Afterschool Girls STEM Club begin

The i3 grant funding could run through 2020, with each component of GROW STEM expected to continue through at least that summer. A set of clear and measurable objectives were established in the grant submission, including enrollment increases, parent and student surveys and achievement on TNReady exams.

Download the news release by clicking this link: Metro Schools to Receive $3 Million to Grow STEM Opportunities for Middle School Girls.