Building STEM Schools in California: Helping Our Students Succeed

Citing a lack of American-trained scientists and engineers, the federal government has made the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) a priority. Several STEM programs and schools have opened in California.
Image source: Flickr CC User RDECOM

Citing a shortfall of American-trained engineers and scientists, the Obama Administration has made it a priority for schools to better teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to students. In response, entrepreneurs, community leaders, K-12 public schools, private schools, and charter schools have begun developing innovative programs in existing schools, in addition to building so-called STEM schools from the ground up. For example:

  • In Gaines Township, Michigan, a businessman developed a 663,000 square foot Pyramid building to teach STEM classes from preschool to graduate school. Two K-12 schools have already committed to opening there.
  • In Columbus, Ohio, Linden-McKinley, a tough and troubled urban district, completed a $34 million renovation in 2012 to remake its high school into a STEM school that serves roughly 1,000 middle and high schools.
  • Manor New Technology High School in Manor, Texas, opened in 2007 as one of the state’s original STEM schools, and graduated its first class in 2010. Its students now regularly win national awards.

Better STEM, Better Schools

We believe the national effort to do better in teaching applied science and technology presents an opportunity for all schools in California to update their classroom technology and improve their facilities – in essence, to create a 21st Century school. In reality, schools have little choice but to implement these programs. Firstly, students should get an early foundation in these disciplines because that’s where many of the high-paying, available jobs of the future will be. For example, by 2018, according to some estimates, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs because there will not be enough qualified workers. Secondly, if public schools don’t offer these programs, they risk losing students not only to private and charter schools, but also to other public schools that do have these programs.

STEM Schools Can Bolster Enrollment

Oakland Tech, which has offered strong programs in engineering and math for 20 years, is one of the original California STEM schools. Not surprisingly, the North Oakland school has also become the “IT” public school to attend in the city. That school so regularly graduates students to the nation’s top engineering schools that the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came to visit in 2009.

Drawing students from the entire Oakland area, it grew by more than 200 students between 2009 and 2013. Parents are willing to send their kids far away to a higher performing school for many reasons, but their quest to find innovative technology, math, and applied science programs certainly is one reason. But schools are finding funding opportunities, and support, to teach STEM disciplines in places you wouldn’t expect.

Engineering Classes Are Offered in Unexpected Places

Take, for example, what happened at Castlemont High School in East Oakland. Despite a troubled history of low graduation rates and declining enrollment, the school successfully introduced an engineering program.

Castlemont had to revamp its curriculum or continue to see its kids drop out at alarming rates and lose top students to high performing schools, such as Oakland Tech. Castlemont’s solution was ingenious: It partnered with an engineering consulting firm that was headquartered a few blocks away. The company’s engineers volunteered more than 120 hours in four 9th grade classrooms, and taught hands-on science that culminated in the students designing prototypes for wind turbines.

Upgrading Your School’s Facilities for STEM Programs

That program shows what a school can do when it thinks outside the box, but it also speaks to a national trend in education. U.S. public schools are now expected to teach STEM disciplines. To do so effectively, however, schools need modern facilities that can handle ever-changing technologies.

It can be hard for California schools to find the money to pay for these new facilities and technology. But as we have previously written, new legislation signed this past year gives districts more local control and flexibility in finding funding for science and computer labs, as well as other necessary physical assets. Districts can also build support for public bond issues, which is often the most effective way for public schools to raise money for major projects. They can also establish a local foundation or seek a major private donor to raise money, a technique which is on the rise amongst public schools all around the country.

Reaching out to the community and explaining the benefits of the STEM programs will assist with both private fundraising and generating support for a school bond on the ballot. It all starts by developing a long-term facilities and technology plan. When it’s time to develop your existing property, you need to fully understand your existing facilities, their financial value, and all potential and alternative uses. DCG Real Estate’s expert consultants can help you create a plan to get the most out of your funding while running the project from start to finish. With this level of support, your school can effectively generate funding and provide students with state-of-the-art facilities to help them excel in their STEM classes.

If your school is exploring implementing a STEM program or building a STEM school, you don’t have to go it alone. You can get a thorough analysis of your facilities needs from a consultant whose community values align with your own. Contact DCG Real Estate today to learn more.