Teaching science in Maryland

March 14, 2011

Thank you for The Sun's front-page article on the challenges of teaching science, technology, math and engineering in Maryland ("Deficient in science: State known for research doesn't do very well at science education," March 10).

We must invest in STEM in the earlier grades; children between the ages of 6 and 12 have a high interest in math and science, but as they get older that drops off.

Contrary to common belief, test performance is not a good indicator of who will pursue STEM career, but interest in science careers among 8th-graders is. Thus, we must cultivate interest in science in the pre-teen years and continue to cultivate that interest throughout high school.

We have a huge shortage of qualified STEM teachers, so we must make teacher recruitment a priority. While skills and knowledge are important, enthusiasm and excitement are also essential to create and maintain students interest.

Missing from your article is the lack of engagement of STEM industries in the schools. Also missing is the role that afterschool programs can play in sparking interest in STEM. Seventy-five percent of Nobel Prize winners in science say their interest in science was ignited by experiences in non-school settings.

Schools clearly have a role to play in implementing curriculum, recruiting qualified teachers and providing equipment. The importance of integrating STEM into after-school programs has become apparent to us at The After-School Institute. After-school programs are a way to reach those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented by and in the STEM fields.

The After-School Institute is currently implementing two national STEM projects, Great Science for Girls and National Partnerships for After-School Science 2. There are 32 sites across Maryland where we are serving under-represented African-American boys and girls. We also recruit African-American STEM college students and professionals to serve as advisors and role models.

We are partnering with a variety of local organizations and have undoubtedly increased demand for STEM programs. However, our work and that of others cannot expand because of limited funding. We hope your article will stimulate more financial support for programs that focus on STEM education.

Rebkha Atnafou, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Baltimore-based advocacy group The After-School Institute.

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