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.

Girl Scouts offer many STEM activities for the 21,000 girl members in the 27 counties covered by Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania. It is why they feel it is important for girls to have a single-sex organization. Lisa Shade, marketing director of Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, says, “The all-girl environment really gives them that safe, supportive space where they are free from the social pressures of a co-ed environment, and as girls get older, it’s common that those social pressures maybe cause hesitation in girls.” This is especially true with STEM, where women are under-represented. Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania Executive Director Pat Burkart says the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will always remain separate. “We are separate organizations and were never been meant to be the same thing,” Burkhart says. “We strive to build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place through leadership development.”

Students at Bowie Middle School had the opportunity earlier this month to use the da Vinci Xi surgical robot and simulator to get a feel for the medical profession. The real-world opportunity was made possible by the new Access project. Local hospitals have agreed to partner with the middle schools in Ector County ISD. Rick Napper, MCHS president and CEO, took an interest in bringing the robot to the Bowie and Odessa College campuses. He said the partnership is a way to enhance the education process in the community. The project is split into three strategic directions, Napper said. The first is to bring in technology to teach kids what skills will help them in the future, second is to support the teachers with things they made need in their classrooms and third is to mentor students.

Earlier this month, Sci-Tech was named a National Blue Ribbon School. The award is given to schools recognized for closing the achievement gap among students and demonstrating that all students can achieve at high levels. It’s a major milestone for Sci-Tech High and the whole Harrisburg School District. “Let me tell you, I’m a proud Harrisburg High School alum, and so this is not just an accomplishment for Sci-Tech, this is a great day for Harrisburg School District because all of our students come from the city of Harrisburg,” said Dr. Sieta Achampong, principal of Sci-Tech High School. Sci-Tech is one of just 19 schools in the state to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award this year.

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