Science. Technology. Engineering. Math. Four words that make up an acronym that has become pervasive in the world of education. Day schools and yeshivot, according to Elliot Lasson of Joblink of Maryland, Inc., “have a responsibility to legitimately and adequately expose students to science and math classes so that they will at least consider those majors in college.”
Lasson said that he sees jobs in the STEM field posted more often than others, and that given Baltimore’s proximity to D.C. and leading national organizations such as the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, it is important that area students be prepared.
Lasson said he has informed area day schools about the need for STEM. He pointed to Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School as an example of a school that is moving the STEM curriculum forward.
Head of School Zipora Schorr told the JT that BT has focused on raising the standard of its science, math, technology and engineering programs for the last several years. She said she assigned department heads in each division to examine the topic and determine ways to improve learning.
Each year, for example, BT students have the option of taking a wide array of advanced placement science courses and in taking part in a science symposium. Students in high school also have the option of obtaining internships in science and math labs and then presenting the work they learned in the field.
Technology, said Schorr, is also a focus. The lower school utilizes the latest equipment in the classroom, and in the middle and high school, BT this year launched a program using iPad minis. While not all students are required to take part in the STEM curriculum, Schorr said there is a growing cohort that is interested in the industry.
“More and more students are going toward the science direction, primarily because of the technology,” said Schorr.
BT had one student develop an app, which he used to market himself during the college admissions process. Several students have taken part in — and placed high — in area robotics competitions.
“The good news is,” said Schorr, “we are encouraging our girls as well.” A 2010 American Association of University Women survey found that though women and men are more equally represented in today’s white-collar workforce than they have ever been, enormous gender gaps still exist in science and engineering careers. Studies have shown that barriers such as stereotypes, gender bias and a discouraging classroom atmosphere can deter women from pursuing careers in these areas and may explain why there are so few female scientists and engineers.
In New York, at the Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys, students are involved in the Common Core Curriculum. According to Principal Gerald Kirshenbaum, 32 sophomores and juniors took part in an extensive STEM education program last year to much success.
He said that it is not just yeshivot and day schools that are grappling with how to implement STEM subjects, but that this is a national challenge.
Kirshenbaum taught and held administrative roles in the public school system for decades before retiring into chinuch 15 years ago. He said the American education system is segmented, teaching branches of science and math in silos. In New York, where students take Regents exams, they are assessed based on their knowledge of physics or chemistry or calculus; there is nothing to gauge STEM. Additionally, he said, America has been focused on memorizing information and not on solving problems. A proper STEM curriculum, he noted, helps students think and challenges them to come up with solutions. That is what the program at Stahler is doing, he said.
Lasson noted that he thinks good educators can inspire students to be passionate about STEM fields. He said not bringing STEM into Jewish day schools would limit Jewish students from obtaining the highest-level jobs.
“We have a lot of intelligent, sharp students in day schools, and many of them end up in humanities or liberal arts curriculum. This is fine. There may still be some jobs. However, where things are really trending is toward technology and science and engineering and math,” Lasson said. “And this trending is not a blip on the screen. It is a transitional period in history and will influence future jobs. These skills will important in whatever vocation you are interested in. The schools should be on the bandwagon.”