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DPS continues to thrive through STEM
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By Joshua Pilkington

New programs aim to develop students for the future

When Denver Public Schools was chosen two years ago as one of 24 organizations nationwide to receive a four-year grant to enhance career-focused pathways in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) they wasted no time in putting that money to work. Partnering with the City of Denver, the Office of Economic Development, two and four-year colleges and universities, and corporate and industry partners, DPS launched Career and Technical Education (CTE) Pathways in eight high schools.

CTE and STEM expanding

According to historical results, students engaged in a CTE pathway have a 30 percent greater likelihood of graduating high school than their counterparts.

As the program has rolled out throughout the district over the past two years there are now 100 programs and pathways in 40 middle and high schools across the district, according to DPS. Furthermore, 4,000 students are enrolled in existing CTE programs and 1,000 students are in new CTE pathways. The aim is to have 8,000 students and 40 percent of all DPS high school students in CTE pathways by 2018.

Colorado students not ready for college

The need for the CTE pathway stemmed from a clear need for graduating seniors to be college ready. According to a state report published at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, the number of Colorado students enrolling as first-year university students unprepared for college-level work increased for the second year in a row.

Of the high school seniors who graduated in 2015 and enrolled in the 2015-16 academic year 36.1 percent had to enroll in remedial courses. That percentage is up from 35.4 percent the previous year, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education. That number is slightly higher for Hispanic students, 39 percent of which were placed in remedial classes.

That is the need CTE pathways and STEM attempt to address

“Our schools must do more to engage, prepare and inspire college- and career-ready students, and our STEM programs must be better aligned to employer and postsecondary needs,” reads the official CTE statement.

Career-focused model

What CTE pathways do is what many middle and high schools internationally have been doing for decades, preparing students to further themselves in their careers, not just in continued academia.

According to DPS there are four major elements of career pathways through CTE. They include rigorous, career-focused and project-based course sequences; work-based learning and career exploration; clear pathways to post-secondary opportunities; and continuous post-secondary alignment.

The STEM fields to which the pathways align are advanced manufacturing, biomedical, engineering and energy, finance and technology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those high-demand fields currently are not being filled as quickly as they could be with a ready-made labor force, which is why the need for career-focused studies such as those introduced through CTE and STEM have increased across the nation. Many corporations have taken part in donating funds to CTE and STEM-related programs in an attempt to invest in their future.

“As a company, yeah there’s the balance sheet and you need to make a profit or you’re out of business, but you should have a core value of giving back,” said Matt Smith, vice president of engineering and IT, United Launch Alliance and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Colorado Education Initiative. “One of the ways you can give back in a way that multiplies across our whole state and will even eventually affect our nation is by giving back in some way shape or form to education. STEM education or STEM literacy is a fantastic area of opportunity and everybody can get involved.”

Better students, better community

What the continued implementation of CTE pathways for STEM means for DPS goes beyond students as well.

Moving forward DPS and the City of Denver plan to provide great schools in every neighborhood through STEM and CTE-supported programs while also developing a workforce to work in the thousands of new companies moving to Denver yearly, closing the opportunity gab and reducing poverty.





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