Prince George’s County Public Schools will beef up the science, technology, engineering and math components of the 13 career-focused academies rolling out in its 22 traditional high schools over the next five years.
The focus on these STEM subjects — from architecture and design to military science — follows the national emphasis on subjects experts say will help the United States remain a world leader in technology, manufacturing and innovation.
“We want the career and technical [academies] to become more STEM-like,” A. Duane Arbogast, the school system’s chief academic officer, said after participating Wednesday in a forum in Washington, D.C., on STEM education sponsored by U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) of Fort Washington. “Part of STEM is real-world application.”
Academies such as environmental sciences, information technology, and health and biomedical sciences are shoo-ins to showcase a heavier emphasis on science and math, Arbogast said. But even the hospitality and tourism curriculum will move toward using science and math to solve real-world problems, such as how many employees are needed to run a large hotel.
Many of the STEM additions to the curricula of these academies will be through projects and modules developed by the state department of education that will give “more coherence and a sense of progression across the grades in science,” Arbogast said.
Data on students’ success in STEM subjects is hard to come by in Prince George’s, primarily because of privacy concerns, Arbogast told forum participants Wednesday. But the University of Maryland, College Park has seen large increases in enrollment in its A. James Clark School of Engineering and its College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences over the last several years, according to internal tabulations by the university’s Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment division.
While the university saw a 7.2 percent growth in total enrollment between fall 2006 and fall 2011, the latest year for which the reports are available, the School of Engineering saw a 30.6 percent increase in the number of students enrolled. What was called the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences in 2006 grew its enrollment by 150 percent by 2011, according to the reports.
But students should be encouraged to study STEM well before college, Edwards said. Both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties should expose students to STEM early — in fourth or fifth grade — and emphasize the subjects in all schools, not just those with specific STEM programs, Edwards said. Robotics or environmental clubs, and information technology programs can make learning STEM subjects fun, she said.
“When we educate the whole child, then we can turn them into the kind of young people who will be productive and fully educated,” Edwards said.
Glenn Chester, the PTA president at Potomac High School in Fort Washington, said all students need a solid education in science and math but then should be able to choose a course of study, such as the creative arts, that suits their interests.
“You have to have the basics, and [Prince George’s County schools] do, and I’m thinking that’s good enough for our students,” said Chester, whose two daughters will be in the 11th and 12th grades at Potomac High this fall. “But if we fortify them in what they want to do, that’s good for our kids.”
Richard Dixon, a Capitol Heights resident whose son, J.D., is a rising junior at Forestville Military Academy, said instruction in engineering teaches students to understand procedures and processes, providing critical thinking skills and a solid foundation for any type of further study.
“Engineering is a great background for anything you do in life,” said Dixon, adding that proficiency in STEM subjects also would set an educational foundation for students interested in more creative fields. “As a nation we need as many homegrown scientists and engineers as we can have.”