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East St. Louis gets serious about STEM

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Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2014 7:45 am

Teachers from East St. Louis District 189 recentlyparticipated in a two-week-long conference, called the STEM Teacher Quality (TQ) Initiative, at Washington University’s Danforth Campus. The STEM TQ was created by STEMpact, a local collaborative partnership aimed at improving science, technology, engineering and math education.

During the conference, teachers were shown how to integrate STEM problems into lesson plans and connect them to the real world; something Mechelle Howard, second grade teacher at Officer Elementary, feels will aid her students tremendously.

“When kids are learning academic subjects, sometimes they’re isolated in classrooms and they don’t see a connection with how the skills they’re learning relate to future occupations. Lots of times, they think it’s a subject they’ll never use,” Howard said.

That’s where STEM comes in.

“What STEM promotes is that when you’re teaching the academic skills they need to learn, you’re actually making a connection with them and with the real world so they can see why they need to learn it,” said Howard.

Not only are teachers excited about STEM, students are too. Kelly Greenwood, first grade teacher at Officer Elementary said STEM allows her students to engage in tactile learning, which they enjoy because it is a change from standard classroom instruction. 

“Students are ecstatic to learn about STEM due to it being hands on. STEM engages those tactile learners (which most students are) because they are able to touch solid objects,” said Kelly Greenwood, first grade teacher at Officer Elementary.

Wenona Woolfolk, fourth grade teacher at Dunbar Elementary, agreed with Greenwood.

“Children are naturally inquisitive and STEM allows them to channel and focus that innate quality,” said Woolfolk.

Woolfolk said that after participating in the STEM TQ in summer 2013, she felt motivated to impart the knowledge she gained unto her students.

“I felt empowered when I went back into my classroom,” said Woolfolk. “Teachers are facilitators of knowledge, so it is crucial that we be STEM educators for our students to be as successful as they can be.”

These teachers are readily taking on the task of getting educated about STEM to increase the number of opportunities that will be afforded to their students in the future.

“STEM jobs have grown at a rate three times faster than non-STEM jobs in the past decade and we expect that growth to continue,” said Deborah Holmes, project manager and facilitator for the STEM TQ.

With the field of technology dominating the job market, there are now more STEM positions open than there are qualified applicants to fill them.

“I must teach students the skills they need to have jobs in the future. I was in a forum with Fortune 500 companies telling us they don’t have enough capable applicants to fill their positions,” said Greenwood.

Even more important is the need to fill those positions with bright intellectuals from underrepresented groups, said Woolfolk.

“The components of STEM in conjunction with lesson design gives our students skills that will allow them to be able to compete later in life for careers that they are disproportionately represented in,” said Woolfolk.

By participating in conferences like the STEM TQ, the teachers say they are better prepared to mold their students into the future leaders they are sure to become.

“We are educating the next doctors, the next lawyers, the next architects, the next construction engineers. We can either make or break a child,” said Howard. “I always think, ‘What else can I do to improve their educational learning?’ STEM is one way to do that.”

For more on District 189, visit

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