STEM grants could benefit high-tech Valley high schools

December 21, 2012

Latinos and African Americans make up 13 percent of the national workforce, but they hold just 3 percent of all high tech jobs. Women are also lagging behind. Now, Arizona high schools have the opportunity to apply for grants that will serve these underrepresented students.

STUDENTS: I’m taking Honors English, Honors Math, Honors Biology. I’m taking Honors World History. Honors Geometry, and Algebra II.

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: These are the courses Jasmine Parker, Marielly Amarillas, and James Zhuan are taking at Gilbert’s Perry High School. These freshmen students are the first class of the School’s new Science, Engineering, Technology and Math, or STEM program. And although many Arizona high schools teach advanced placement STEM courses, Perry High is doing something different. Once Jasmine, Marielly and James graduate, they will receive a STEM diploma.

Perry High School Students and Administrator From left to right, Marielly Amarillas, Jasmine Parker, James Zhuan, and Assistant Principal Joe Greene. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

JOE GREENE: Our goal is to get them as college ready as we can so that they’re gonna be successful in whichever college that they happen to attend

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Joe Greene is Perry’s assistant principal. He designed the school’s STEM program, which is the only public high school in the state that offers the diploma.

GREENE: When you look at industry, especially the STEM industry, there’s a great demand. They’ll tell you that there is not enough qualified people, especially female, minority and so on. So, part of the goal was to attract those kids.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: This is exactly why Greene plans to take advantage of a new national initiative. Companies like Google, the education charity group, and The College Board have partnered to give away $5 million to high schools across the country. That money will jump start or expand STEM programs.

POTOULA CHRESOMALES: The start-up funding includes start-up funds for text books, classroom materials, lab materials.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Potoula Chresomales is with The College Board, and education advocacy group.

CHRESOMALES: It also includes professional development for the teacher that are taking on this additional challenge of teaching a college level course in high school.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The program will give as much as $9,000 to more than 800 schools across the country. Nearly two dozen are eligible in Arizona, including Perry.  

CHRESOMALES: One of the things that we encourage schools to do is to help students recognize their own level of preparedness and readiness to take rigorous coursework.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The Arizona schools meet the program’s criteria. Each has a large female and minority student population. The students scored 70 percent or higher in last year’s Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test – or PSAT. And 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

MARIELLY AMARILLAS: My parents like Perry already with the academics without the STEM. And once they found out about the STEM they just put me in it.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Perry High School students like Marielly Amarillas are already off to a good start even without the extra money. Their STEM program requires students to take honors courses, participate in summer school math and science workshops, and they must maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average. There’s a counselor dedicated to the program to help students get through the four years. A report by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that Engineering, physical sciences and science technologies are among the fields of study with the lowest percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to females. Assistant Principal Joe Greene says reports like this motivated Perry High School to launch its STEM program.  

GREENE: Right now the program has 107 students and about half of the program is underrepresented groups. So I think we’re really serving that population.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ:  For Jasmine Parker, the program has given her a more gleeful view about her future, which now includes a career in sports medicine.

JASMINE PARKER: We’re really lucky to have a school who provides this for us. But if I was never at this school, I don’t think I would probably do it. Well if they didn’t have it, well, that’s a reason.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: If Perry High School is awarded the national grant money next year, school officials will use it to make their STEM program more robust. Perry will expand its software engineering program, and even bring robotics courses to the school.