On September 8, Chancellor Kim Wilcox, Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) Superintendent David Hansen and Riverside City College (RCC) President Wolde-Ab Issac signed an agreement to form a partnership to broaden the educational horizons of students at the Riverside STEM Academy (RSA).
Though this partnership will benefit only one school in the RUSD, it is a step in the right direction toward bettering the educational opportunities in the overall Riverside community. While state budget toward education has increased during Governor Jerry Brown’s term in office, K-12 schools in California still have a long way to go in terms of giving their students an equal and beneficial education. (An example that may come to mind are the present cuts many California districts, like Los Angeles Unified School District, must make on their summer school programs). Community-based initiatives like the UCR-RUSD-RCC partnership are what is needed in California’s current educational circumstances.
A STEM program focused primarily on K-12 has many advantages. For one, specializing in STEM requires that students continue building upon their previous skills in math and science. For example, in order to succeed in college-level physics, one must have a strong foundation in calculus. It’s easier to enter and understand STEM fields if one starts at an early age. Teaching RSA students the importance of these fields can encourage them to pursue STEM majors and careers after high school; seeing how STEM plays out in a college setting can inspire these students, which is why it is vital that UCR and RCC joined this partnership.
Although RSA contains only about 400 students, working only with this school first may be a smart move. RSA students may have a higher interest in STEM due to their school system specializing in such and work harder to achieve in the program, increasing the partnership’s success. Because the program is relatively new and does not have a set system in place, such as lesson plans or workers, it may be detrimental to expand to more schools. Testing this program on a smaller population is better in terms of cost and flexibility. If this partnership pans out, then expanding it to other RUSD schools should be considered.
While any new initiative toward education can be constructive, a particular initiative toward STEM is vital to the success of our future. As a U.S. Department of Commerce report states, STEM workers generate many innovations for new companies and industries, yet “US businesses frequently voice concerns over the supply and availability of STEM workers.” This partnership recognizes the need to reduce this situation as it seeks to prepare “a highly-educated workforce in STEM fields” as it sees this as “a national and local priority.” It will be able to do so, especially if it sticks to its goal to provide “hands-on experience in laboratories and specialized STEM guidance at UCR and RCC.”
For UCR to be a productive member of this partnership, it should make sure that it provides a diverse pool of teachers and hands-on activities for the RSA students. While RSA has had a relationship with the “faculty and departments” at UCR, for this partnership it should be considered to open this pool of participants to not only professors, but also graduate and undergraduate students. Doing so can offer a range of opinions and experiences from many instead of merely those who already have a career in STEM fields. An undergraduate can offer RSA students advice on how contemporary STEM classes are at the college-level, which can be especially vital to inspire RSA students to go major in STEM. Also, the more college participants involved can increase a better teacher to student ratio, which allows for RSA students to develop relationships; such relationships can be a positive influence on student’s lives.
Second, the inclusion of hands-on opportunities in STEM, such as visiting laboratoires, doing experiments, or going on field trips, can help RSA students envision themselves in a STEM environment. Education via textbooks and lectures may distant students from the importance of the material, however hands-on activities allows students to use their senses and critical thinking.
Though this UCR-RCC-RUSD partnership is new and yet to be further developed, it’s an important opportunity for betterment not only for RSA students, but also the Riverside community as a whole. Hopefully, this partnership can expand in the future.