Early implementation of STEM programs can benefit Jacksonville businesses

6/30/2016

In planning education policies and initiatives, it’s important to look at, not just how students are performing in schools, but also where these students can eventually find a place in the community and in the workforce. That’s why we at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund love to have student voices on this blog. This spring, one of our board members, Anita Vining, had the opportunity to hear Hannah Beatty, a high school senior, at the Rotary Oratory Speech Competition.

“[Her] eloquent words are descriptive of what we try to convey to the public every day…Quality Education is the beginning route to a successful destination,” Vining said after hearing Hannah speak.

Here, Hannah adapted her speech for the blog and we hope that you enjoy!

- Charmaine Campo

Early implementation of STEM programs can benefit Jacksonville businesses

Perhaps one of the greatest sins an outstanding entity – whether that be a city, person, or company – can commit is that of stagnation. Excellence is only achieved through constant revision and the pursuit of an insatiable, yet infinite, quest for perfection. In this modern era, such necessity is further complicated by an ever-changing environment of technology, social values, and ecological evolution.

Currently, Jacksonville is distinguished by steady growth in the fields of finance, manufacturing, and healthcare. Organizations such as Forbes and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have hailed us as one of the best places to find work, save money, start a business, and establish a headquarters. Over one million people call Jacksonville home because of its big city output and small town hospitality. So how does such a thriving city evaluate itself objectively in order to ensure consistent growth and security? The answer lies in the recent advertising campaign for Jacksonville entitled “Endless Possibilities.”

Limited possibilities for students in Jacksonville’s growing STEM businesses  

The possibilities are indeed “endless” for the lives that Mayo Clinic has saved or the space travel made possible by Cecil Airfield’s horizontal launch spaceport. However, for the 23.4 percent of Jacksonville adolescents that do not graduate each year, the possibilities are, in fact, limited.

In 2012, a comprehensive study entitled “Innovate Northeast Florida” discovered potential shortages in computer, engineering, healthcare, and manufacturing fields due to degree disinterest and lack of qualification. This represents limited possibilities for students as well as Jacksonville’s science and technology-based businesses.

In 2014, the average science proficiency in Jacksonville middle schools was at a staggering 46.3 percent. Famed neo-futurist Vito di Bari, in his recent visit to Jacksonville, encouraged that, “Jacksonville can become a leader in arts and innovation, but only if the population can coalesce around an idea.” It is, therefore, imperative that Jacksonville unites to implement early-action STEM programs into elementary classrooms and middle schools. The ramifications would increase the graduation rate and retain Jacksonville’s brightest students to enrich the workforce in the city that made them shine.

The economic and social benefits of early STEM implementation

Education has proven to be an indispensable ingredient in economic development and community cohesion through multiple studies. In an article commissioned through the Economic Policy Institute, Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, and Peter Fisher, research director at the Iowa Policy Project, concluded that “providing expanded access to high quality education and related supports—particularly for those young people who today lack such access—will not only expand economic opportunity for those individuals, but will also likely do more to strengthen the overall state economy than anything else a state government can do.”

Improved education not only benefits the economy, but also the social makeup of a city. A paper produced by Berkeley in 2003 entitled The Effect of Education on Crime estimated that America could save $1.4 billion per year in incarceration fees if the high school graduation rate for affected sectors increased by only one percent. If these statistics were applied to Jacksonville, the whole community would benefit socially and financially.

Creative ways Jacksonville could implement STEM programs to engage students

Because of the fields Jacksonville has honed, I believe STEM implementation is the best solution to prevent decay. STEM stands for Space, Technology, Engineering, and Math education. While STEM is an inherently agreeable idea, it is easily made monotonous and contrived. Dr. Vince Bertram’s recent book, One Nation Under Taught, acknowledges the steep climb that STEM implementation presents. However, with “activity-based learning,” “family involvement,” and connections to courses like history and English, STEM education can thrive and evolve in Jacksonville where scientific opportunities abound.

Students could learn about ecosystems and how to maintain them through excursions to the St. John’s River. Velocity, drag, and lift could be exhibited at Cecil Airfield. If STEM is fun and interactive, students will learn that there are numerous applications for their skills in the community and world. STEM-based curriculum would also teach students how to be perceptive of Jacksonville’s specific community needs. Special programs for students through Brooks and Mayo could inspire Jacksonville youth to find innovative ways to improve medicine and rehabilitation.

Richard Florida’s book, The Flight of the Creative Classunderscores the importance of individuals who ingeniously face situations within their community, if only that community is conducive to out-of-the-box thinking. Through early STEM exposure more Jacksonville high school graduates would not only be qualified for future jobs in Jacksonville’s business sectors, but also be prepared to discover new solutions that will keep Jacksonville ahead of the curve.

Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Since Jacksonville is already a hub of medicine, technology and logistics, we should focus on early STEM-implementation that would change Jacksonville education for the better by making science and math more accessible through interaction, intersection, and community involvement. If Jacksonville wants to stake its claim on the world, it must first cultivate the minds of those who will inherit its legacy.

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85.1 % of students district-wide graduated high school in 2018, a record high.

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