Late last month, I had the pleasure of touring North Minneapolis’ Patrick Henry High School with Sen. Al Franken, whose main talking point had to do with the Senate’s first markup of the long-overdue renewal of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s principal — and very broken — education-reform program.
Funny trade, the news business. Congress carried the headline that day, but more interesting to me, personally, were the activities in the classrooms we visited.
Patrick Henry is one of those little-known gems where a high-poverty student body is busy-busy ignoring and defying conventional wisdom. A frequent fixture on Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report’s “best schools” lists, it boasts robust International Baccalaureate, engineering and robotics curriculum.
In one class, we watched a seriously multi-culti group of juniors and seniors engaged in the mind-boggling exercise of building a scale model of a building, complete with innards and insulation, and determining its R-value. And this was not the most advanced engineering course the school offers.
Franken’s entourage that day included representatives from two small, local high-tech companies who tagged along to talk to students about the kinds of workers they desperately needed, and the real-world value of the skills they were acquiring right there in those overheated, antiquated and all but overlooked hallways.
Which is all a very roundabout way of getting to the point of this post. Educators talk a lot these days about enriching their offerings in STEM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
And framed as a workforce development issue, well, grownup policy wonks can natter about STEM for hours. Between 2009 and 2019, Minnesota will need 70,000 new workers with STEM skills, for instance.
So know this: Patrick Henry’s exceptionally poised students humored Franken, but all eyes were riveted on the needy employers from locals Mack Engineering and Huot Manufacturing Co.
As an everyday classroom exercise, the calculations behind that R-value might seem like an abstraction. But there, at the head of the class, were people with jobs to fill — good, well-paying jobs — talking to these kids not as the slack end of the achievement gap but as the future. I’d wager that goes a long way toward keeping students on track.
Want a taste of the magic? Have a potential STEMster who needs a little of that motivational mojo? It’s your lucky week.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 30, several groups — the Minnesota High Tech Association, Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the state Department of Education and the nonprofit AchieveMpls — will host a STEM expo at Lincoln Community School, located at 1200 Penn Ave. N. in Minneapolis.
STEM professionals will staff a “career alley,” and representatives of after-school opportunities and higher-ed programs will be on hand. Two daytime sessions are aimed chiefly at MPS middle-schoolers who are thinking about their high-school options.
But an evening session from 6:15-8 is open to the general public. Families in particular are encouraged to attend.
If you do, you just might witness the slow but steady narrowing of the opportunity gap.