“I believe you can be…an astronaut, a scientist, an inventor, a coder….”
Belief is a powerful word. It inspires, motivates and can give a student the confidence he or she needs to succeed. Unfortunately, too many young people in our schools will never hear someone say they believe in them.
Across the country, many youth—especially those in underserved communities—face incredible hurdles in achieving success, and the pervasive belief that a student’s background prevents him or her from learning at a high-level adds yet another hurdle to overcome, and shortchanges the kids who need us the most.
In order to eliminate this belief gap, we need more educators, parents and communities willing to reflect on their own assumptions of which students can achieve at high levels, and then commit to believing in all students.
This is where STEM learning opportunities can help. STEM initiatives across the country are working to show that all kids can learn what many view as the “toughest” subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. These programs also play a major role in exciting and sustaining students’ interest in learning, while building real skills and helping youth connect STEM to their lives.
Last year 27 communities came together to create STEM Learning Ecosystems to address the belief gap across entire regions and states. These Ecosystems offer STEM opportunities from in-school and out-of-school programs to museums and businesses. One such program is EvanSTEM, in Evanston, Illinois. The program builds new collaborations among teachers, STEM professionals and afterschool providers to help under-represented students beat the odds. About 41 percent of the kids participating in the program are from low-income households.
Another example program helping to close the belief gap is the Middle School Zero Robotics program out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The students in this program are proof that all students can absorb complex subjects matter. Through this program kids across the country learn concepts including physics, mathematics and computer programming. Students have even sent their work to the International Space Station.
These are just two examples of STEM initiatives shining a light on the reality that every student—even those facing tremendous obstacles such as poverty—can learn and enjoy all subjects with the right support systems. There are thousands of initiatives across the country working to eliminate the belief gap through the development of STEM-rich learning environments that build important skills and activate engagement for all students. And now a new program is launching that will give a boost to this great work.
STEM Next is a new initiative launched out of the University of San Diego. Supported by a generous gift from the Noyce Foundation, the initiative builds on a decade of impact and creates a new horizon to increase opportunities for science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning for youth across communities both in and out of school. STEM Next will become a champion for STEM education, a cultivator of collaboration across sectors, a builder of systems to support STEM opportunities and a catalyst for investments in the field. As a result, more young people—especially those negatively impacted by the belief gap—will have the opportunity to showcase their achievements and share their STEM knowledge.
But STEM initiatives can’t do it alone. Fully closing the belief gap will require all of us to challenge unintentional biases and convey the belief that all children can succeed. It won’t solve inequity in education, but it’s a simple step in putting our students on the path to a brighter future.