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STEM Update

STEM seals give graduates leg up in careers and college education

ROBOTS MAKE STEM FUN—A St. Vrain Valley high school student takes part in the rigorous STEM program that helps him attain future options, including more relevant job skills once he graduates college, or even high school.
ROBOTS MAKE STEM FUN—A St. Vrain Valley high school student takes part in the rigorous STEM program that helps him attain future options, including more relevant job skills once he graduates college, or even high school.

Students who graduate from Skyline High School’s Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics Academy in Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley School District receive a special certificate—a STEM seal—along with a diploma.

Providing seals are part of a growing trend. At least five states, including Ohio, Nevada, New York and Texas, offer special endorsements for high school graduates who demonstrate strong achievement in STEM.

Requirements vary, but generally include completing math, science and other courses, attaining a minimum grade-point-average, and achieving specified scores on standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT. Several states also require a capstone project.


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Districts that offer such seals will benefit, says Claus von Zastrow, chief operating officer at Change the Equation, a nonprofit representing businesses pushing for stronger STEM in schools. “The second they do that, they have to make sure that endorsement has meaning in the market,” von Zastrow says.

Businesses want more

The business community wants students to come better prepared for employment, while colleges and universities want K12 to provide coursework that prepares students for higher education, he says.

Districts should offer students multiple STEM pathways, including certifications for students heading straight into the workforce, and advanced coursework for students headed for higher education, he says. 

St. Vrain (32,000 students) offers a comprehensive STEM program that starts in preschool, and it embeds in-demand skills such as problem-solving throughout the curriculum, says Patty Quinones, the district’s assistant superintendent of innovation. And St. Vrain students can earn an associate degree for free.

The district operates one of Colorado’s three Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH). The school allows students to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in Computer Information Systems from nearby Front Range Community College.

Graduates who hold an associate degree in Computer Information Systems should have good job prospects and can consider entry-level jobs as web developers or computer support specialists, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The district also operates an Innovation Center, where students can take courses to earn certifications, such as Apple MAC Technician, and then gain work experience with local businesses.

Collaboration is key

An important element to remember is that district leaders should initiate conversations to determine what experiences and skills students need to be successful after graduation, says von Zastrow of Change the Equation.

Discussions should include employers from a cross section of industries. And students who plan to pursue higher ed may need different skills than students who go into the workforce, he says.


Jessica Ablamsky is a freelance writer in California.