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After-school programs crucial in STEM education

Op-ed contributor Brian Gaines is right that we've got a long way to go when it comes to making sure Maryland's next generation is sufficiently educated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics ("No. 1 isn't good enough," Jan. 23). But he overlooks one outstanding way to help do the job: After-school programs.

Ample research demonstrates that high-quality after-school programs can have a significant impact on students' attitudes about STEM fields and careers, their knowledge and skills in those areas and even their likelihood of graduating and pursuing a STEM career.

A recent survey of after-school providers by the Afterschool Alliance identified a consensus on the most achievable STEM outcomes for students who participate in after-school programs. They include boosting student interest in STEM, engaging students in STEM activities and learning to value the goals of STEM education.

The secret to after-school programs' success is that they are uniquely positioned to offer students the kind of hands-on learning time that STEM education so often demands, as well as interaction with STEM professionals from the community.

That's why after-school programs are often the home for robotics and rocketry teams, and why programs so frequently work with STEM-related companies, university professors and others to give students a glimpse of future careers in the field.

After-school programs can't do the job all on their own, of course, but they are a vital component of an effective STEM education strategy for our schools.

Anita Krishnamurthi

The writer is director of STEM policy for the Afterschool Alliance.

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