Pasco considers science labs in elementaries
LAND O' LAKES -
Budding engineers may get the chance to develop their skills earlier than ever.
The Pasco County School District is exploring placing engineering labs in elementary schools, a move in line with calls across the country for more STEM education to help better prepare students for the job market.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Superintendent Kurt Browning and other district representatives recently took a trip to Manatee County where some elementary schools already offer weekly engineering labs, giving students a greater breadth of knowledge as they move into middle school and beyond.
“Our goal is to have that district-wide where we are able to have these engineering labs, science labs,” Browning told the school board at a workshop last week.
Board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, a former science teacher, is a proponent.
“I love the idea because I think it will beef up the science education,” she said.
Too often, Armstrong said, science gets limited attention in elementary schools because teachers are uncomfortable teaching it or they must spend such an inordinate amount of time on reading and math that science gets left out.
The emphasis on career-oriented concepts at the elementary school level also meshes with what school districts have been doing at the high school level for several years and are about to embark on with middle schools.
Each high school in Pasco County has at least one career academy that allows students to earn industry certification that can pave their way directly into the job market or better prepare them for college. The academies focus on such subjects as engineering, automotive mechanics, culinary arts and information technology.
A state law was responsible for the career academy movement.
Now the state is pushing school districts to bring the career academy model to middle schools as well. The first in Pasco, focusing on engineering, will be implemented at River Ridge Middle, which will work in conjunction with the engineering academy at River Ridge High.
Proponents of STEM don't want to stop there, though, and that's why the movement toward an elementary school program with a career and technical education focus is happening.
In Manatee County, the school district has created a program it calls Inspiring Elementary Engineering, or IE2.
Among the first Manatee schools involved was McNeal Elementary in Bradenton, which includes a STEM category on its website along with photographs of its students involved in robotics, catapult competitions and other activities.
For skeptics, Kinnan Elementary in Sarasota provides a “why teach engineering to children” fact sheet that says engineering fosters problem-solving skills; helps students improve their knowledge of math and science; and increases their awareness of scientific and technical careers, among other benefits.
Pasco board member Alison Crumbley, who was part of the delegation that made the excursion to Manatee, was impressed with what she saw.
“They made it fun in the lab,” she said.