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Anne Arundel schools excel with STEM programs

SchoolsHigh SchoolsMiddle SchoolsSiemensIntel Corp.

The Anne Arundel County school system has one of the most accomplished science, technology, engineering and math programs in the state, garnering national awards while ensuring that its initiatives remain available to all students, according to school officials.

"Anne Arundel County is doing a fabulous job," said Donna Clem, state coordinator of STEM initiatives. "Anne Arundel County is right here in a hotbed, in the I-95 corridor … with many organizations that are looking for the development of a STEM workforce."

Possibly the greatest testament to the county's STEM success came in May, when North County High School's Jack Andraka won the $75,000 grand prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for developing a new test for early-stage pancreatic cancer. The contest is among the most renowned worldwide for school sciences, with more than 1,500 entries from 70 countries.

But Jack Andraka is far from alone: His brother, Luke, a junior at North County High, won last year's MIT Technology for Humanity Guided by Innovation, Networking, and Knowledge Award, which recognizes students whose science projects benefit their communities. Two years ago, Luke Andraka won $96,000 in prizes at the Intel ISEF, with a project that examined how acid mine drainage affected the environment.

"They've got STEM from beginning in elementary school to middle school to high school," Clem said. "The preparation has to begin in elementary school, but when you get to high school, you get your Siemens finalists, you get your Intel winners. That's how those kids are able to accomplish so much of what they're able to do."

Teachers are also being recognized nationally. Beth Foster, Annapolis Middle School's resource teacher for science, was among two educators from the state recently chosen for a 2012 Siemens Teachers as Researchers fellowship. And Severn Middle School's Kevin Garner was one of two teachers in Maryland selected for a Siemens STEM Institute fellowship.

The state school board launched its STEM initiatives in 2007 with state funding of grants. It gave guidelines and standards but allowed school systems to tailor the programs themselves.

Anne Arundel officials, in keeping with state efforts to make STEM available to all students, have used an inclusive, community-based approach, capitalizing on the presence of Fort Meade and the Baltimore-Washington technology sector.

For example, Kayleigh Deacon, 17, of Crofton completed an internship at the Edgewater-based Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, working with children at an environmental camp.

"I was able to use what I learned in my past environmental STEM classes to teach the children how to respect and understand their environment," Deacon said.

And South River High's Austin Davis, 17, of Edgewater took part in an internship at Annapolis engineering company Drum, Loyka & Associates, assisting civil engineers and land surveyors.

North County High, one of two high school magnets, launched its STEM program in 2008 and last year graduated 51 seniors from its first STEM class. "The students led the way in piloting each new course and took the lead with each new experience," said North County Principal William Heiser. "As students matured, many became leaders in our school community. Academics are critical, but it is also about being a leader."

South River High launched its program for freshmen in 2009, but allowed 27 10th-graders to enroll as well. Those 10th-graders graduated last year, and South River Principal William Myers said that they accounted for 22 percent of the $14.6 million that graduating seniors earned in scholarship money.

School officials said they have ensured that STEM would not be seen as a program for advanced learners but a lure for students of all levels who merely have an interest in the sciences.

"We've been very careful not to allow this program to become elitist, something so special that the rest of the school resents it," said Myers. "We don't glorify STEM in the sense that it's the best thing at South River because we have so many other great programs."

The Arundel school system has infused STEM into many of its other school programs and made it a community-oriented discipline that has tapped into interests of students from all backgrounds.

"The one huge unique thing about STEM is the students in it," said South River High senior Austin Davis of Edgewater. "You would be surprised that not all of them are in the top 50 of their grade or are already getting accepted to prestigious colleges before regular admissions are open, even though more than a handful are.

"But most of them," Davis said, "are just smart, curious students that just have an interest and a desire to change something big or small to do something they enjoy that the STEM program can offer or accommodate to offer."

"It's about grabbing student interest and facilitating amazing opportunities for kids," said Maureen McMahon, Arundel's STEM coordinator. "From the point of student engagement, we've seen the numbers in the clubs grow from four or five hundred to over 5,000 students involved in after-school clubs and online learning over four years."

In addition to the two high school magnet programs, Arundel offers a STEM technology, STEM biomedical and Allied Health program at Glen Burnie High School, a robotics program at Woodside Elementary and STEM co-curricular programs for all the county's elementary schools and some middle schools.

"At the Woodside Elementary School, you should see these children; you can't get them out of the STEM classrooms," said McMahon. "At the end of the day, the teachers have to go home to their families and the kids are still in there programming their Lego robotics and using iPads to take photos and digitally change them."

McMahon said that the local technology community helped design the program, adding, "They told us, 'We want to have creative children,' and we ended up putting art as a mandatory, fundamental component in ninth- and 10th-grade STEM."

South River's Deacon said she has always had a interest in math and science classes, but some of her friends didn't — until they started taking STEM classes.

Now, she says, her friends aspire to be doctors and engineers, and though she entered the STEM program with the intention of becoming an architect, she now is seeking a career in genetic counseling, which involves advising those with a relative who has a genetically inherited disease on prevention, testing and personal risks.

Deacon called it "a career I would not have even known existed without this program. The program prepares their students for college, careers and the rest of their professional lives."

McMahon said its next STEM initiative will be a magnet at Old Mill Middle School South, which will open next calendar year and be the county's first for middle schools. It is also launching a biotechnical engineering program at Glen Burnie High that will be the only such program in the state.

Jack Andraka said that since winning the Intel honor, he has taken part in many cancer awareness conferences and will spend his sophomore year honing his invention. But he added he will also continue to further his interest in art, which likely would not have happened if the county didn't have a STEM program that includes other subjects.

"I used to hate art," he said, added that art classes at the school showed him how to integrate the discipline into science. "That's a really helpful thing that made me understand that art isn't really ... useless, but it can actually be useful and fun."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

Anne Arundel's STEM successes

•North County High School's Jack Andraka won the $75,000 grand prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May for his new way to test for early-stage pancreatic cancer. The contest is among the most renowned worldwide for school sciences, with more than 1,500 entries from 70 countries.

•A group from the North County High School Technology Student Association placed second overall in a state engineering challenge sponsored by the Baltimore Museum of Industry in April.

•Beth Foster, Annapolis Middle School's resource teacher for science, was among two educators from the state recently chosen for a 2012 Siemens Teachers as Researchers fellowship.

•Severn Middle School's Kevin Garner was one of two teachers in Maryland selected for a Siemens STEM Institute fellowship.

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