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Keeping Children & Youth Learning Beyond the School Day

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under STEM

Thanks to Techbridge Girls for partnering with SOWA to create this piece of the importance of STEM learning in afterschool settings, especially in reaching middle-school aged girls, low-income students, and students of color.

In the coming weeks, classrooms will be buzzing with the excitement of students heading back to school and starting a new school year.  Across Washington, the state’s investment in education this past legislative session and what this means for creating equitable opportunities that prepare students for career and college readiness will be under scrutiny.

While we’re seeing more funds than ever being directed to our schools, many gaps still exist in providing our students with learning opportunities that expand beyond the school day.  Especially when it comes to fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) where students need additional time to practice what they learn and make connections to real life experience, there simply is not enough time during school hours despite the growing need.  

Careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields comprise the fastest growing job opportunities, however, too few students have the skills, knowledge, and experience to see themselves on a STEM career trajectory.

Here in Washington, this rings truer than almost anywhere else in the country as we rank second in the concentration of STEM jobs.  In the next five years, 740,000 job openings will be available, thirty-three percent of which will be STEM focused.

While the abundance of well-paying STEM jobs is good news, the bad news is that our students are not poised to fill these positions.  Students of color are disproportionally impacted, with Washington’s opportunity and achievement gaps in math and science staying stagnant for over a decade and growing to the 12th largest in the nation.

Groups like Washington STEM and School’s Out Washington are working hard to close these gaps and provide quality STEM educational opportunities for students that prepare them with the skills and knowledge to enter STEM careers.

Providing opportunities for diverse groups of Washington students to participate in STEM learning outside of the classroom can not only spark lifelong passions but help develop a future workforce here at home.

Through experiential activities, students gain knowledge and develop skills, from coding a satellite on the International Space Station to participating in a field ecology program at one of Washington’s many beautiful parks. This is especially vital for students of color, girls, and low-income students who are less likely to see themselves in STEM careers.

Research shows that girls, African-American, and Latinx students tend to lose interest in STEM starting in middle school. According to the College Board, of the 30,000 students who took the AP Computer Science exam in 2013, less than 20 percent were female, about three percent were African- American and eight percent were Latinx.  Afterschool and summer STEM programs can help us close this gap.

Techbridge Girls is one example of an organization providing girls from low-income communities with STEM-focused afterschool programs in Washington. First starting in the Bay Area, Techbridge Girls focuses on providing girls, particularly in underserved communities, the opportunity to learn about STEM careers through offering engaging activities ranging from robotics and computer graphics to learning chemistry by mixing their own lip balm. They bring in real scientists and STEM professionals to serve as role models so girls can see themselves working in STEM fields.

Since the launch of Techbridge Girls in 2000, the organization’s California, Washington, D.C. and Seattle programs have directly served more than 7,000 girls in grades 4-12. These programs aspire to use STEM education as a launching pad for girls to achieve economic mobility and pursue better life opportunities.

As families across Washington gear up for another school year, let’s not forget that students only spend 20 percent of their waking hours in school.  Investing in quality afterschool and summer programs not only helps kids and families but has the potential to play a critical role in building our next generation of qualified STEM professionals here in Washington.

Data Sources

More about Techbridge Girls: Techbridge Girls inspires girls to discover a passion for technology, science and engineering. Through hands-on learning, we empower the next generation of innovators and leaders.   Techbridge launched its Greater Seattle office in 2014. 

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