Public Schools And Community Programs Connect To Support Student Learning

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Informal educators take on the role of students during a hands-on STEM activity.
Informal educators take on the role of students during a hands-on STEM activity.

Over 40 professionals from community nonprofits gathered for a free training sponsored by the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub. This session was delivered in partnership with Hamilton County Department of Education and held at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Chattanooga campus. The one-day session was the first in a series of training events focused on giving professionals from afterschool programs, summer camps and community activities additional skills and resources for supporting students’ academic achievement.

These trainings are the result of a community-wide commitment to support education and workforce development. Over the past two years, a diverse set of stakeholder groups have been working together to expand student learning and workforce skills in science, technology, engineering and math. An increasing demand for STEM skills among employers has led to a focus on STEM learning throughout the nation. Here in Southeast Tennessee the initiative has rekindled past alliances and cultivated new partnerships among schools, businesses, nonprofits and colleges in an effort to create student enrichment activities and teacher training programs focused on STEM.

“Studies show that some of the most influential factors leading to students pursuing STEM careers actually happen in informal learning experiences, such as camps and afterschool activities,” said Keri Randolph, director of Learning for the STEM Innovation Hub. “This series of trainings has been designed to help informal educators align their programs with classroom instruction and give students more of the hands-on learning experiences found in quality STEM instruction.”

The Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub works to facilitate partnerships such as this one between local school systems and community organizations. “Our organization was established last spring by the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network to help unify the region’s collective response to the demand for STEM skills,” said Tracey Carisch, managing director for the STEM Innovation Hub.  “As we identify an opportunity to expand STEM learning for K-12 students, we reach out into the community to create the partnerships and programs that can fill that need and move the region forward in this STEM initiative.”

Wednesday’s training event served as an example a STEM need being filled by strong community partnerships, with the STEM Innovation Hub and HCDE working together to design a session for nonprofit organizations held at BlueCross BlueShield. During the training, the participants first learned about STEM and the new Common Core State Standards to give them a clear understanding of the work students are doing in classrooms.  With this knowledge, they spent the rest of the day discussing how they can better align their programs to support the schools’ teaching strategies and to help children develop important STEM-ready skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration and perseverance in solving problems. 

Jayne Griffin from the Creative Discovery Museum walked away from the session with several action items for enhancing her programs connections to classroom learning. “In addition to a number of specific steps for moving forward with improved classroom alignment, I also gained a great deal of optimism for future collaboration among informal educators and school teachers,” she said. “The STEM Innovation Hub is serving as an important link between our organizations and public education.”

The school districts also see the benefits of this cooperative effort around STEM as well. Rick Smith, superintendent of Hamilton County Department of Education, commented on the value community partners bring to student learning. “These informal educators are a tremendous resource in extending learning outside of the classroom and through the summer months.”

Participants of the session at BlueCross BlueShield will be invited to continue the training process throughout the spring. Monthly lunch sessions will be held at the STEM Innovation Hub, located within PEF. These trainings will be free and open to all informal educators in the region. 

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