Here’s the problem: less than 30 percent of jobs in the nation’s STEM workforce are held by women. There are many theories about the reasons for this crisis in wasted potential, but Broward County Public Schools is tackling the issue by starting girls in STEM early. In elementary school.
The fifth-graders at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, for example, all take science in a room outfitted with several kinds of robotics, 3D printers, engineering challenge kits and more. The activities and assignments are designed to get the kids excited about STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
“They have learned how to code, they’re engaged with each other, and they just feel empowered in being learners,” said Heather Hedman-Devaughn, principal at Manatee Bay.
The issue isn’t getting them interested, it’s getting girls to stay interested in STEM as they get older.
“But we find if we start ‘em earlier, they were more likely to retain them through the process,” said Lisa Milenkovic, Broward Schools’ STEM Supervisor.
Middle school is the key age group, with research showing that right around seventh grade, girls start losing interest in STEM classes.
“12-year-old girls, seems to be when they fall off, that’s when it’s self-selected, that’s when maybe friends make a difference so we find that if we recruit friends, recruit groups, we encourage our STEM teachers to do that dedicated recruiting for girls, then we get more success,” Milenkovic explained.
That’s exactly what veteran STEM teacher Diana Dworzan does at Apollo Middle School in Hollywood. She exposes girls, and boys, of course, to many different areas of science and engineering and she says most of her girls pursue advanced-level STEM classes in high school.
“They are awesome, they have so much to offer, they’re curious, they have competitive spirit, all of that’s developed in this classroom,” Dworzan said.
If that spirit carries through to high school, it’s a good omen.
“Early intervention with STEM actually is a predictor of success in college,” said Hedman-Devaughn.