Demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers in northern Nevada is growing, as evidenced by reports from the Brookings Institution, Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, EDAWN and the Nevada STEM Advisory Council. In fact, over the next 10 years, STEM jobs are projected to grow 40 percent faster than non-STEM jobs. Currently, unemployment in STEM fields is half the unemployment rate for non-STEM fields, demonstrating that we are entering a talent constrained marketplace even before rapid growth.
To meet this workforce demand, Nevada needs to make significant improvements to its education system. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) notes that in Nevada, elementary teachers in grades first through fourth spend less than two hours each week on science in the classroom. It is no surprise then that according to the most recent NAEP science assessment, Nevada’s science scores are significantly lower than that of the nation with only 23 percent of eighth graders demonstrating science proficiency.
Sierra Nevada Journeys, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is committed to helping the community meet our long-term STEM workforce goals by building STEM literacy and passion at the elementary level. Sierra Nevada Journeys currently serves over two-thirds of the elementary schools in northwestern Nevada and directly serves over 20 percent of every elementary student in our region annually with high quality, hands-on STEM education.
Elementary STEM education is currently an underserved area in Nevada’s strategic STEM workforce development efforts. Mark Newburn, vice president of the Nevada State Board of Education, highlighted the importance of early STEM education when he said, “Anyone who denies a child access to STEM starting in pre-kindergarten has made a career choice for that child.” With less than two hours per week spent on science in our elementary classrooms in northern Nevada we are forgoing the most important time for foundational STEM education in our traditional classroom approaches.
Many teachers feel ill-prepared to teach STEM education in the elementary classroom. Schools are currently only held accountable for math and English scores, leading to an environment where there is no accountability for elementary science achievement. Thus, the time spent in the classroom on science and budget invested in science teaching tools have fallen sharply over the last 20 years. Similarly, time spent on professional development of current and future teachers in science education pedagogy has similarly declined. The result is an elementary teacher body that lack the background, tools or top-down accountability to teach science to their students in a way that supports long-term workforce development.
Sierra Nevada Journeys partners with local elementary schools to ensure they can build a culture of high-quality STEM education. On top of delivering innovative STEM curriculum to build student achievement, Sierra Nevada Journeys also provides teacher training in Next Generation Science Standards for new and current teachers. One of the most exciting programs Sierra Nevada Journeys offers is the Daugherty Science Internship program, placing University of Nevada, Reno student teachers in Sierra Nevada Journeys’ teaching roles to give them first hand experiences teaching rigorous STEM curriculum. Additionally, Sierra Nevada Journeys partners with schools to build a culture of STEM achievement through family science nights.
Dr. Philip Sadler, a professor of science education at Harvard University said, “Most people who turn out to be scientists, or engineers, or mathematicians, originally got interested in elementary school; somewhere between grades K through 6.” By presenting hands-on problems for young students to solve, children are encouraged to find their joy of learning and expand on their individual strengths.
By addressing both the content and engagement needs for our community’s young students, Sierra Nevada Journeys is providing a critical service for future workforce development success. With partnership from over two-thirds of the local schools and a large number of businesses, foundations, and individuals, Sierra Nevada Journeys will serve over 20,000 students in 2016 with over 50 percent of these students from low-income families. Sierra Nevada Journeys is expected to serve their 100,000th student in 2017 while also celebrating 10 years of service to this community.
To support the work of Sierra Nevada Journeys and ensure an exciting future for our students, ask your schools about their science education approach for your kids. Learn if they are using a Sierra Nevada Journeys science program. If you want to help ensure community success in the future, consider financially supporting Sierra Nevada Journeys’ work to build a better tomorrow for northern Nevada – ensuring we are building the next generation of leaders, scientists and stewards.
For more information or to financially support Sierra Nevada Journeys, please visit www.sierranevadajourneys.org.
Eaton Dunkelberger is the CEO of Sierra Nevada Journeys.