Opportunities in Afterschool Programs Abound for STEM Education

Professionals and educators cite funding as a major hurdle in improving STEM education.

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There is momentum in the field of STEM education, notes Carlos Rodriguez, principal research scientist at the American Institute for Research. "The challenge now is how to accelerate the velocity around STEM."

With nearly 150,000 technology jobs that will go unfilled at Fortune 500 companies over the next several years, there has been an increased focus in high schools to prepare students with math and science skills to eventually fill these roles.

While schools have ramped up STEM efforts inside the classroom, there has also been an increase in after-school programs, says Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance.

"There's been a sea change in the attitude of after-school programs," Grant notes. "We're getting more and more sophisticated about the programs we offer our children after school."

What has long been considered a placeholder for children waiting for their parents has become an opportunity for students to increase their education and understanding of STEM. "Kids are designing paper airplanes, learning chemistry through cooking, [and] we have kids who are using computers to redesign their neighborhoods."

The funding of these afterschool programs has been one of the most prominent issues, says Grant. According to data from the Afterschool Alliance, parents of 18 million students would enroll their children in an afterschool program, if the opportunity were available to them.

Corporate America has been willing to invest in afterschool programs, but is often unsure if the monetary contributions they are making influence STEM education in the right way, says Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation.

There's a tension in the corporate world between patience and urgency, she says. Corporate America wants to enact change immediately, but "education doesn't work that way."

According to the Afterschool Alliance, 8.4 million students participate in an afterschool program, but there are 15 million children who are alone and unsupervised outside of the classroom.

"We have hours and hours to fill students with deep, meaningful content," Grant says. "It's staggering what we could be doing with those children."

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