Ohio will now recognize STEM elementary schools

by Aimee Kennedy, Vice-President of Education, STEM Learning & Philanthropy at Battelle

In leadership, one of the first lessons you learn is the importance of small changes. Many times, the solution isn’t a radical change. Instead, small changes the first step and, if well chosen, can have huge impacts.

Image of Aimee Kennedy
Aimee Kennedy on the signing of Senate Bill 3 allowing Ohio elementary schools to earn STEM designation

One of those small, powerful changes happened in Governor Kasich’s office on Thursday.

The Governor signed Senate Bill 3, enacting a series of changes to Ohio’s laws for schools. You can read the bill here, but you might miss its most important change.

On page 72, there’s a single word changed:

Evidence that each school will offer a rigorous, diverse, integrated, and project-based curriculum to students in any of grades six kindergarten through twelve, with the goal to prepare those students for college, the workforce, and citizenship. (Read the full bill)

With that, Ohio can now offer elementary schools STEM designation. Designation of STEM schools is one of the reforms that puts our state at the forefront of education. Moreover, designation is how our state preserves certain core pieces of what we mean by “STEM.” These are requirements like:

1) Non-selective admissions

2) Real-world learning through partnerships with local businesses

3) Preparing students for college with college credit-worthy classes

While STEM designation has been open to middle and high school since 2008, the Ohio education community has spoken loud and clear on the need for STEM education to start earlier. The sooner students see STEM values like critical thinking and problem solving, the sooner they can build the skills tomorrow demands.

Schools like Reynoldsburg Summit STEM Elementary and Northwestern Elementary have already been piloting STEM at the lower grades, even without formal designation.

Northwestern’s Julie McCumber explains how their K-12 program pushes for higher achievement up the chain when students learn the basics early on: “The things that they’re able to do in middle school are going to change, so that teacher in that course needs to take it up a notch, which then leads to the high school, which then makes their high school program take it to the next level.”

NW students prototype
Kindergarten students at Northwestern Elementary School prototype a bridge using toothpicks, gumdrops, and marshmallows with guidance from teacher Amber Tiano.

A strong STEM emphasis in the lower grades pushes our students to achieve more as they work their way through high school. To get students college and career ready, our work begins on their first day of kindergarten.

On behalf of OSLN and Battelle, I’m proud to applaud General Assembly and Governor Kasich for this solid step forward. Quality STEM education prepares the innovators of the next generation, and they’ve helped to support a new population of STEM learners across Ohio.

I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Here’s what the Ohio Department of Education had to say: “Quality STEM education can make a powerful difference in the lives of Ohio students, including elementary kids,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria. “We are excited to see how schools will expand Ohio’s STEM model to these young learners.”

STEM designation is now open. If you represent a STEM school and would like to pursue designation this year, you can read basics about the process at osln.org/designation. Be sure to click over to the Ohio Department of Education’s page for the full application.

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