By Maureen Robertson
College graduates are earning degrees, but not all are finding the jobs they thought they would.
That was the message from Pauline Leavitt on her first day as Olive Peirce Middle School principal.
Labor Bureau statistics show that 323,000 workers with bachelor’s degrees in California are working as food servers, she told Ramona Unified School District trustees during their discussion of district priorities for the 2013-14 school year.
“That tells me that these people went and got a degree, thought they got a career, and then they went out to get a job that didn’t exist,” she said.
Leavitt, who’s been with the district nearly seven years — the last two as James Dukes Elementary principal — said that when wildfires hit Ramona, she didn’t think things could get worse. Then the housing market dropped.
“We saw 350 people lose their homes in the Estates and another 150 in the next year, and then I’ve seen in the last two years a lot of homes going into short sale and foreclosure,” she said. “I’m looking at the problems of the economy and I’m thinking, what are we going to do to help our families, and when I’m looking into the faces of our families and our students, I’m thinking, what am I doing to make a difference, so that when you go out in the world, you can do the job.”
Her remarks and initial ideas came after Trustee Rodger Dohm, who teaches engineering courses at Poway High School, explained STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, an approach to education that “came as an outcry of the needs in our society,” he said.
Dohm defined STEM as “the creative integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The focus is the engineering design process, where all four disciplines are infused into real-world hands-on projects where engineering is at its core. The engineering design process drives STEM where science, mathematics and technology become part of the creative process, and innovation or invention are the solutions.”
It’s more than studying each subject separately. The point of STEM, said Dohm, “is for students to really have
an understanding of how to use science, how to use technology and how to use mathematics as tools like in a toolbox to actually create or invent something following the engineering design process.”
National programs have been created since the 1990s, he said, noting that his experience is with Project Lead the Way, a curriculum for middle and high schools.
To institute STEM, the district needs a curriculum, the ability to get data, and staff development, he said.
Consumers have driven the need for innovation. Because the United States hasn’t had enough mathematicians, scientists and engineers, “we’ve had to look outside our country,” he said, adding, “we really want to look inside the country.”
If the district develops a curriculum that integrates the subjects creatively, “where they use all these things as tools...then we would be able to inspire and get kids excited about going into these fields.”
“STEM is taking everything and using them as tools all in one package, and that’s really the idea,” he said.
The cost to the district would be the teacher, training for the teacher, technology and curriculum, he said.
Grants are available, Leavitt and Dohm agreed, and not everything will cost more.
A science teacher recently hired at OPMS already is certified in STEM and was trained at Columbia University and NASA, said Leavitt. She plans to use Codecademy, a free resource, for all students during homeroom.
“I already have students at James Dukes that have finished the Codecademy and are selling their apps online,” she said. “They can help the other kids learn how to do this.”
The district “needs to up the ante” in what students are learning, Leavitt said.
“I want, when our students of 2018 go out to get jobs, I want them to be qualified,” she said, noting Ramona has a 7.7 percent unemployment rate. “...I think, when we look at our economy, it’s not something we have to think about doing, it’s something we have to do to help our Ramonans...They’re waiting for a solution for their kids.”
In a 5-0 vote, trustees approved district priorities for 2013-14. Included was adopting a STEM program.
Ramona Unified School District Priorities for 2013-14 school year
1. Improve district’s short-term and long-term fiscal health.
2. Maintain environment of open and honest communication with the local community and all employee groups.
3. Improve personal and academic student learning through clear, relevant, and rigorous standards-based curriculum and accountability system, with a focus on the following strategies:
a. Exploring and implementing ways to help students and teachers master the multi-dimensional abilities required of them in the 21st Century.
b. Implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS) through the development of strategic and purposeful instructional practices in English Language Arts and Mathematics with involvement from the Ramona community.
c. Developing a K-12 system designed for every student to become “career ready” upon graduation from high school. Readiness should come through college and/or career preparation, as defined by a seamless transition into post-secondary education and/or professional training toward a viable career.
d. Expanding the utilization of high-quality online instruction at the secondary level (Grades 6-12) while utilizing existing and cost-effective technology resources to enhance student learning, K-12.
e. Expanding secondary course offerings in World Languages and adopting a nationally proven Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program into the existing academic K-12 program where curriculum, data, and professional development are provided.
f. Reviewing and/or revising the curriculum and instruction for Civics, K-12.
g. Continuing to ensure that every school is a safe and orderly environment for all students.