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Westminster College Launches STEM Program for High-Needs Schools

There are 2.4 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs available for every unemployed person in Pennsylvania with STEM skills, according to the national science education advocacy group Change the Equation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education reported that in 2013, low-income students in Pennsylvania scored about 9 percent lower on standardized math tests, and 20 percent lower on standardized science tests.

Westminster College in Lawrence County, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, has just announced a new program that aims to address both of these issues.

IQ STEM includes an undergraduate scholarship component and a professional development component, both of which focus on four high needs school districts in the region surrounding Westminster: Sharon City School District and Farrell Area School District in Mercer County, and Union Area School District and New Castle Area School District in Lawrence County.

High needs schools are defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 as schools with high teacher turnover rates, a high percentage of out-of-field or uncertified teachers, a high number of unfilled teaching positions and/or a large percentage of students whose families fall below the poverty line.

“They are our neighbors,” said Amy Camardese, chair of Education at Westminster Education. “We … feel an obligation to use the tools that we have at the college to enhance the welfare of our neighboring school districts.”

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program was created in 2002, and “responds to the critical need for K-12 teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by encouraging talented STEM students and professionals to pursue teaching careers in elementary and secondary schools.”

A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will loop Westminster into the Noyce program, which already includes hundreds of institutions across the country. In Fall 2015, 20 incoming students at Westminster will be selected as Noyce scholars, with the expectation they will all be prepared to teach STEM courses in high needs schools upon graduation. For every year they receive the scholarship, students will commit to two years of teaching in high needs schools.

“It’s a different type of teaching you need to do when you’re working with students of high need,” Camardese said. “We’ve developed a course for our Noyce scholars that will help them understand the needs in an area of high need and also specific strategies that might work with those students.”

The second part of IQ STEM includes professional development for teachers already working in the four districts, by capitalizing on the skills and expertise of faculty in STEM fields at Westminster.

“So those folks will not only mentor the students, but they will work with the faculty at the various school districts, and we will also have the teachers’ workshop (during the summer),” Camardese said. “In that way, it’s not just a one shot deal, but an ongoing, integrated pervasive five-year plan.”

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