By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Sam Stalnaker, former principal of Madison County Central School, addressed the School Board at their final meeting for the year, Dec. 20. Speaking as the new Coordinator for North Florida Career Pathways Consortium that serves the six county area of Madison, Jefferson, Taylor, Lafayette, Hamilton and Suwannee, he stressed the importance of STEM/CTE coursework and the need for getting more high school students into STEM/CTE courses. His presentation explained the Consortium’s purpose and goals, asking school board’s help and support in the Consortium’s effort to close the STEM/CTE gap.
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) gap he referenced was the difference between supply and demand for employees who are “STEM-capable,” or proficient in such areas.
Florida’s high schools are not graduating enough STEM-capable students to fill the growing demand of 21st century jobs in four different career groups, Stalnaker told the board members. The four major career groups that will be looking for future workers are computer technology, mathematical sciences, engineering/surveying and the natural/physical/life sciences.
According to the 2010 Florida Council of 100 Report, “Closing the Gap,” by the time current high school STEM students graduate from college, 9 out 10 new jobs may be in STEM areas. The Florida K-12 STEM Ed Report Card 2011 estimates that the state will need to fill approximately 411,000 new STEM-related jobs by 2018.
Part of Stalnaker’s mission as Coordinator for the North Florida Career Pathways Consortium is to encourage more students to go into STEM studies in preparation for future employment in one of the four growing career groups. Careers in some of these groups can command as much as $74,000.
“That may turn some heads,” said Stalnaker.
Another gap is the CTE (Career Technical Education) gap, or what used to be known as “vo-tech.”
Stalnaker described CTE as “teaching a skill set for something the student can become certified in and be qualified enough to apply for a job,” using as an example, the job of certified nursing assistant – a student completing the CTE curriculum for certified nursing assistant would be able to sit for the exam and pass, becoming eligible for employment in that area.
“Not all our students want to go to college,” he said. “But all our students need a job.”
There are 16 “career opportunity clusters” in the CTE group, offering certifications in a variety of industries. Stalnaker highlighted several of the clusters that offered opportunities right here in Madison, including: agriculture, food and natural sciences; arts, A/V technology and communications; education and training; health science; information technology; and law, public safety, corrections and security.
Examples of specific jobs included electricians, welders, cosmetologists, equipment operators, drafting, surveying, animal sciences and agritechnology.
He also talked about a curriculum of “foundation knowledge and skills” that would make students more employable, teaching things like getting to work on time, ethical practices, problem solving and working as part of a team.
However, there are some issues, including a lack of knowledge and awareness of the full range of opportunities available through STEM/CTE, both in and outside of Madison. There is a self-perception of CTE, leftover from “vo-tech” days, a perception that needs to be improved and brought more in line with reality. There is a lack of local role models in some career fields that could help students visualize their own goals for the future. There is also a need for more resources for recruiting and training students.
Students who want or need further training in their chosen fields have a choice of several institutions within a 90-mile radius of Madison, including North Florida Community College, Suwannee-Hamilton Technical Center, Taylor Technical Institute, FSU, FAMU, Valdosta State and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College; additionally, students in Madison and Hamilton Counties can pay in-state tuition rates at Valdosta State and Wiregrass.
The Consortium’s mission is to increase awareness of STEM and CTE, creating partnerships between schools and the workforce, improving the effectiveness of current STEM and CTE programs, and increasing the range of choices available to students.
The problem of resources and budgeting is another challenge. Stalnaker is working on getting some grant money and getting advocacy groups and schools to support the Consortium’s goals to reach families and students, closing the STEM/CTE gap, as they prepare students to thrive in a future that is closer than they may think.