In 1980, when North Carolina was moving away from textiles and tobacco as the state’s economic engines, the first public residential high school focused on science and math in the world was opened. As Hampton Roads, Virginia, faces the critical need to move away from an economy dominated by defense, there is a movement afoot to replicate our southern neighbor’s success, focusing education on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Applied Math).
STEAM-related workers account for more than 50% of our nation’s sustained growth, according to the Department of Labor (2007). Less than 17% of post secondary degrees in the U.S. are STEAM-related, compared to Japan at 64%, China at 52%, South Korea at 41%, Russia at 33% and the United Kingdom at 26%. A large segment of this workforce is fast approaching retirement. U.S. students are not performing well in math and science and exhibit little interest in pursuing careers in these fields.
School of science, math, engineering gets a push
By Elisabeth Hulette for The Virginian-Pilot, October 14, 2011
Imagine a boarding school where bright students from across the state could get a top-notch science and math education for free.
Sound like a pipe dream? Maybe, but this week, it took a step closer to reality.
Organizers trying to build a STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Applied Math – academy in Hampton Roads presented their idea to local business and education leaders gathered in Norfolk. They are trying to figure out whether there’s sufficient interest in the school, and whether that interest could produce the money needed to make it happen.
“We’ve invested a lot of time and energy in preparation,” said E. Dana Dickens III, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Partnership, one of the organizations involved in the effort. “Now we have to put together a team.”
The school would be a Virginia version of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the first public boarding school to focus on science and math. It opened in 1980 and has been replicated 18 times in other states.
According to the North Carolina school’s chancellor, J. Todd Roberts, it receives about 93 percent of its funding – about $18.6 million – from the state. A school foundation donates the rest, about $1.4 million.
Roughly 680 students in grades 11 and 12 live on campus. They apply to get in, and the school takes an equal number from each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.
Like that school, which is in Durham, an academy in Hampton Roads could draw on the many local universities, businesses and science organizations for research collaboration and apprenticeships for students.
Organizers envision the Virginia STEAM Academy having 1,000 students from ninth through 12th grades, plus a summer program for middle-school students, online courses and teacher training.
Science-focused academies are nothing new in public education. One Norfolk group, for example, is trying to start a governor’s school for science and math. But the STEAM committee’s founders say this school would offer something different.
For one thing, it would not only use the state’s standards, but also ones from international science education organizations, said co-founder Judy Stewart. For another, making the school free and statewide would open doors to bright students trapped in lower-level programs offered by their local schools.
“We wanted to even the playing field so ZIP codes, socioeconomic status and gender don’t play a role in the kind of education they can have,” said M. Caroline Martin, also a co-founder.
Martin and Stewart are leading the effort to bring the necessary public and private forces together to make the school materialize.
Fort Monroe in Hampton, which was recently vacated by the Army, has been identified by the organizers as a potential site for the school, and fall 2014 as the prospective opening time. But much more needs to be done.
Funding needs to be found for the estimated $65 million in start-up costs and the $19 million annual budget, and administrative details still need to be worked through with the state education department. But if it works, organizers say, the school could be a major economic boon for Virginia.
If the state invests now in growing its own high-level scientists and innovators, the eventual payoff will be great, they said.
“We mean to make this happen,” Martin told the group assembled Wednesday. “If not now, when? And if not us, who?”
Resources for Virginia STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Applied Math):
- STEM Educational Resources in Hampton Roads via Innovate!HamptonRoads
- North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics, October 2011 (25 pages, <1MB)
- Virginia STEAM Academy Fact Sheet (1 page)
- Virginia STEAM Academy Presentation, October 2011 (13 pages, <1MB)
- Virginia STEAM Academy Steering Committee
- Jim Batterson, retired NASA engineer and former special assistant on loan from NASA to the Secretary of Education
- Gilbert Bland, vice-chair, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
- E. Dana Dickens, III, president and CEO, Hampton Roads Partnership
- Jack Ezzell, president, Zel Technologies
- Danielle Hinton, consultant, Boston Consulting Group; MIT Presidential Fellow
- Wayne Lett, retired superintendent, Newport News
- M. Caroline Martin, retired Executive Riverside Health System/ CEO, Riverside Regional Medical Center (co-founder) CONTACT
- Colleen Seremet, retired and immediate past Maryland Assistant State Superintendent for Instruction, Maryland
- Judy Stewart, president, Taylor Education Consulting, Inc. (co-founder) CONTACT
- Advisory Capacity: Elizabeth Taraski, Planning/Marketing Strategic Planning Consultant