With a job market that has been less than kind to young Americans, schools across the country have been focusing on getting students proficient in STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These fields can lead to some of the most stable — and best paying — jobs.
As “STEM” has grown into a 21st century educational buzzword, several Ohio districts have scrambled to develop special programs – and even entire schools – devoted to preparing students for careers in these areas.
But Kettering City Schools embraced the STEM concept long before it received a trendy brand. Fairmont has been embedding the STEM state of mind into its curriculum for years.
STEM education refers to specialized classes in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (hence the acronym “STEM”). Ohio has 10 STEM schools for students interested in doing something in any of those four fields after they graduate college. The push for this style of education stems (no pun intended) from the types of jobs that currently have the highest pay rate in Ohio.
According to the Buckeye Top Fifty, which predicts Ohio’s high-wage jobs that will be in demand through 2018, students who graduate college with a bachelor’s degree and go into a field of technology can make from $70,000 to $80,000 a year on average. Those who decide upon the health-care field can make anywhere from $60,000 for registered nurses to nearly $90,000 a year for pharmacists, physician assistants and veterinarians.
These jobs are readily available for students graduating college, and the push for students to go into a STEM-related occupation remains strong. And a reliable STEM education is at Fairmont students’ fingertips.
Fairmont has what Nancy Brown, the Career Tech Center Coordinator, calls a STEM pathway.
“We have a STEM pathway in which our students are able to take courses in science, technology, engineering and math and still receive a lot of the same experiences,” said Brown. “In fact, our experiences are richer, because we have a larger array of classes and choices.”
For the 2012-13 school year, Fairmont is offering 24 STEM classes, including 7 AP classes, 3 IB classes, and one dual-enrollment class, Multivariable Calculus. A dual-enrollment class is one in which a student can enroll in a college class with a participating university and receive both high school and college credit.
Many of the STEM classes at Fairmont are part of Career Tech Center programs such as PLTW (Project Lead the Way) Engineering, Allied Health, Biotechnology, Computer Information Technology, Digital Design and Interactive Media.
Pat Fife, director of the International Baccalaureate programs at Fairmont, also notes the challenging IB and Advanced Placement courses available in STEM subjects at Fairmont.
“Students can take a cafeteria sampling of AP and IB classes; they’re open to any student,” said Fife. “I think the most important thing is that the curriculum is rigorous, and it really helps prepare students for the future.”
Though these programs have been available to students for years, just recently Fairmont earned the distinction of a STEM School label. “The pathway we had before STEM was called Math Science, and within that pathway we included engineering and technology classes. We didn’t call it STEM because that wasn’t the ‘in-thing,’” said Brown. “We started calling our pathway STEM because more people understand that term and because we included all the STEM components.”
Fairmont offers not only all the components necessary for a STEM pathway, but the school has something else that the Dayton Regional STEM School doesn’t yet offer in regards to the math and science fields.
Laurie McFarlin, the director of communications for the Dayton Regional STEM School, stated that currently AP and IB classes are not available at their school and no students have taken the Post Secondary Enrollment option. “We do offer a number of Dual High School/College credit classes for our high school students, including Chinese, Computer Programming and Great Books. These choices will expand in the future,” said McFarlin.
Comparing other STEM options
The Dayton Regional STEM School, which opened in August 2009, has 316 students enrolled from grades 7-11 who come from Clark, Greene and Montgomery counties. The small size means each class has 15 or fewer students.
Dayton Regional STEM School sophomore Angel Ramey, who used to attend Fairmont, says the smaller class sizes make it easier to learn. “It’s easier for the teachers to pay more attention to each kid when they are struggling,” said Ramey.
Elizabeth Jensen, a math teacher at Fairmont, says that because of the Dayton Regional STEM School’s smaller size, it can’t offer as many opportunities as Fairmont can. “We’re much larger, which means we can offer classes like Chemistry 2, Physics 2, Calculus 3, and classes like that,” said Jensen.
CTC Coordinator Brown agreed, saying Fairmont’s size plays a big part in what it offers. “We have close to 2,400 students and over 250 class offerings. A good deal of those classes are just in STEM education alone,” said Brown.
Junior Maggie Penick, an IB diploma student at Fairmont, feels the multitude of classes available better prepare her for a career. “Without all the classes available, I wouldn’t be able to pursue all my career options,” said Penick. “Having strong classes in the STEM fields as well as English and history gives me a chance to see what I really want to do after high school.”
According to a presentation put together by Brown, around 1,453 students at Fairmont are taking STEM-related classes, almost triple the number of students enrolled solely in the Dayton Regional STEM School.
Brown explained that the number of Fairmont students interested in STEM classes allows the school to provide more courses, including ones in upper levels like AP/IB and the dual enrollment calculus class.
“If you want a strong science, technology, engineering and math education,” said Brown, “you could easily get that at Fairmont High School.”