In May, RISD announced a partnership with the Texas Instruments Foundation and Educate Texas that will integrate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, curriculum at all grade levels in the Berkner High School attendance zone. The intent is to reshape teaching and learning of these subjects to prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success, according to a recent press release.
Kyndra Johnson, the district's executive director of STEM and innovation, said this type of curriculum instills crucial daily-life skills, such as critical thinking and collaboration, and is advantageous for all students, even those who do not pursue STEM-related careers.
"In Richardson ISD we are making sure that our community, parents and teachers are realizing STEM is not a class; it's a culture," she said. "We are not just focusing on those four [STEM] disciplines; we are looking at more of a culture of teaching, learning and engagement."
Johnson was involved in testing the program south of Dallas in Lancaster ISD from 2012 to 2018. She said bringing STEM For All to RISD made sense because of Berkner High School's success in implementing its STEM Academy, founded in 2007, which allows students to study one of three career strands: engineering robotics, aeronautical engineering or biotechnology. The STEM For All program will introduce two new career strands at Berkner: cybersecurity and STEM management.
STEM concepts will be introduced in pre-K and continue through high school, Johnson said, calling the program a "crayons to college to careers" approach. The youngest students will be taught what STEM is and how to harness creativity.
"[Kindergartners] are your best STEM students," Johnson said. "They are always wanting to solve a problem."
Lower-grade curriculum will focus on awareness and exposure, with students learning about STEM careers and attending field trips and college visits. As students matriculate through grade levels they will participate in project-based learning, STEM competitions, specialized clubs and mentorship programs. Starting at the secondary level students will be able to enroll in STEM electives.
The success of the program in Lancaster ISD was most noticeable in its students' state assessment scores, especially among African Americans, whose scores outpaced math and science state averages at every grade level.
"We dispelled the myth that kids with a certain background are low achieving," Johnson said. "We saw gaps widening in student achievement in certain areas, and we leveraged STEM as a way to improve those areas."
RISD recognized the program as a proven strategy, Johnson said, but aimed to go beyond success in test scores. Introducing STEM at an early age to encourage innovation, collaboration and confidence is the broader goal.
"We are trying to strengthen self efficacy ... kids can't be what they can't see," Johnson said.
A cohort of 10 teachers per campus has been selected to implement the program in Year 1, with a goal of all teachers in the Berkner feeder pattern trained in the "future-ready" learning framework by Year 3. The district has partnered with Discovery Education to provide the curriculum and facilitate professional development.
Sixteen schools and 10,000 students will participate in Year 1, but the district's ultimate vision is to begin STEM For All implementation districtwide after three years, Johnson said. The grant provided by Texas Instruments will allot $4.6 million over a three-year period. Johnson said the district has already begun aligning resources and brainstorming ways to sustain the program for years to come.
"We are hoping to forge great partnerships that may lead into opportunities to apply for other funding," she said.