Thirty-four innovative STEM programs nationwide will get some help from big corporate backers as part of the Ashoka Changemakers Partnering for Excellence competition.
Organizations and companies such as Google, Exxon, and the Carnegie Corporation pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars to help scale up programs that focus on STEM, such as "Citizen Schools," which puts STEM professionals into high-needs classrooms to give students role models.
These extra programs and support from people who work in STEM fields is critical at a time when teacher shortages force many educators to teach outside of their trained subject area, says Talia Milgrom-Elcott, program officer for urban education at the Carnegie Corporation.
"In the STEM fields, the need is such that it's going to be hard for us to ever staff all classrooms with the best quality teachers," she says. "We want an infusion of talent from other sources."
Changemakers launched the competition early this summer—Milgrom-Elcott says the organization was expecting about 80 programs to enter; 265 did.
One of those entrants was the High Desert Leapin' Lizards, which operates a series of STEM-related after-school programs for three elementary schools near the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif.
"It's near a naval base in the middle of the desert, filled with engineers and scientists," says Sandra Goldstein Birmingham, program manager of the organization. "We get scientists trained in the field to develop a content-rich program."
The scientists tailor lessons to meet California testing standards, so science experiments that test, for example, liquid density, will help students pass state exams.
While not every school is near a large naval base, Goldstein Birmingham says her program can certainly be implemented elsewhere.
"I think that at the core of it, what we have are smart people with the common goal of helping kids," she says. "You may not have a naval base next door to you, but you might have a museum, a hospital, or other organization that is in the field of STEM. It's just about that willingness to come around the table and collaborate."
Collaboration is a key aspect of the Ashoka competition, says Milgrom-Elcott. She hopes the 34 winners (Leapin' Lizards among them), will share best practices and will help each other improve.
"We're creating opportunities for networking," she says. The world is rapidly changing, and as a larger number of jobs migrate to STEM fields, students need to pick up more math and science knowledge. "Most kids aren't given the basic skills they need to play in the global economy. This competition is about giving kids the opportunities and challenges they need."