Mayor Kenney pitched community schools as a linchpin of his administration, a key reason Philadelphia needed the controversial soda tax. It would take a number of public schools and transform them with supports, resources and a city-paid staffer to coordinate them, enabling school staff to focus more on improving academics. Two years into the initiative — which has a $3.25 million budget this fiscal year — the city’s community schools are not yet transformed, and overall, the effort’s results have been mixed, according to a study released mid-October by Research for Action, the nonpartisan Philadelphia nonprofit.

Just how big of a problem is summer slide? Research by RAND suggests that students lose one month of learning after the summer holidays. The NWEA breaks it up by grade and subject, finding that students entering 4th grade lose 20 percent of their school year gains in reading and 27 percent in math, and students entering 8th grade lose 36 percent of their school year gains in reading and 50 percent in math. Furthermore, a 2007 study by Johns Hopkins on the Baltimore City school system takes a closer look at equity, and finds that summer learning loss contributes to two-thirds of the achievement gap between 9th graders from higher and lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Students at Lincoln Middle School in Meriden are getting hands-on experience with coding and manufacturing in a new STEM Lab opened by the school this year. Lessons in the new laboratory are aligned with the school’s science curriculum, Principal Dianne Vumback said. “We’re trying to get more creative with our curriculum and this hands-on approach really reinforces the 3D concepts that they’re learning in the science classrooms,” Vumback said. STEM initiatives are being pushed by schools to address a growing manufacturing workforce shortage created by a lack of skilled workers entering the field to replace baby boomers exiting manufacturing. “We see this as the future. Everything is coding and technology, so the more they understand how things work, the better they’re prepared,” said Dave Levenduski, the school district’s supervisor of instruction and learning.

The STEM education wave is nearly 20 years old, and it shows no signs of receding. STEM education is hailed as both a vital workforce development asset and a method for integrating learning across disciplines. And it underpins growing interest in topics like “new collar” jobs, early-college high school, and the fusion of academic content with career and technical education. However, all of this educational weight sits atop the slenderest of reeds in the STEM education landscape: the capacity of elementary educators to prepare their students for success in STEM-related topics as they move on to middle and high school studies. Their keystone role in fostering students’ capacity for and interest in STEM learning makes elementary STEM education an urgent issue for a parade of downstream stakeholders, whether in school, at home or in the workplace.

Makerspaces are places where students are free to explore, to create, and most important, to make something related to the content they are studying. Working with a variety of no- to low- to high-tech resources, students demonstrate the five Cs—collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and confidence. Traditionally, makerspaces have been venues for exploration of STEM content, but why limit makerspaces as a tool for engagement and discovery to only select content areas? Many students feel reluctance when asked to write, so what if we thought of writing as making and creating makerspaces stocked with various tools for students to write with, write on and construct their ideas? Angela Mullennix, an instructional coach at Cameron Elementary with Moore County Schools in North Carolina, created Writing Toolkits, mobile Makerspaces. Students using these toolkits always seem to enjoy writing because it is interwoven with play and no longer a chore. They actually want to express their thoughts; having choice in how that expression happens has now become a powerful learning experience.

Communities across America face devastating realities: shorter life expectancies, the opioid epidemic, obesity, Native American health disparities, migrant and newcomer community integration, mental health challenges and poverty, just to name a few. To address these complex and often interconnected challenges, we seek to leverage the Cooperative Extension System, including young people, as catalysts for wellness among their families, friends and communities. Well Connected Communities is an effort to cultivate wellness across the country. America’s Cooperative Extension System, in partnership with National 4-H Council, is equipping communities to come together with the focus on being healthier at every stage of life. With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health, these communities are cultivating wellness and fostering a culture of health in America.

PSAYDN at Center for Schools and Communities
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