JHU gets $7.4M grant to reform STEM education in Baltimore

Supported by a five-year $7.4 million National Science Foundation grant, experts at The Johns Hopkins University are partnering with teachers and administrators in Baltimore City Public Schools on a program to enhance teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering, and math in city elementary schools by making STEM a community affair.

The program, called STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools—SABES for short—not only will benefit more than 1,600 students in grades three through five in nine city elementary schools but also could become a national model for science, technology, engineering, and math education.

"With this partnership, Johns Hopkins welcomes another opportunity to build on our collaborations with Baltimore City Public Schools to enhance the opportunities for students to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education," says university President Ronald J. Daniels. "At Johns Hopkins, we are deeply committed to working with our partners in the Baltimore community to galvanize our many strengths and resources to serve the city's children and neighborhoods."

The grant was announced Sept. 25 at a press conference attended by federal, state, and city officials.

The project will engage more than 40 city STEM teachers working with students in the three primarily low-income, high-minority communities of Greater Homewood, Lower Park Heights, and Highlandtown/Greektown. Also involved will be parents, after-school care providers, local business people, community groups, and experts from Johns Hopkins, the Maryland Science Center, and the National Aquarium.

The program will provide professional development for teachers, curricular enhancements, and training to enable after-school care providers to augment STEM education by involving children in activities that have resonance in their communities. For instance, students studying the environment in class might work after school on clean water remediation or other projects that will impact their own neighborhoods.

Michael Falk, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering, is principal investigator for SABES. "Our aim is that this partnership will build excitement around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in our communities and empower children and families to engage their world through these activities," Falk says. "Our hope is that this model could eventually be extended to other school systems around the country to foster STEM educational achievement among all students, including those of different ethnicities, language proficiencies, and income levels."

Katya Denisova, science content liaison for Baltimore schools and a co-principal investigator on the grant, sees the partnership as a tremendous opportunity for all involved, especially for city school students.

"SABES is a very exciting project for the entire community of Baltimore City, from the teachers to the families and neighborhoods involved. But foremost, this is a big day for our students," she says. "We see this as a fantastic opportunity to build a bridge for Baltimore City Public School students to the knowledge and expertise that will enable them to be successful in the 21st century."

Twice a year, the students will take part in STEM recognition events where they will be able to present their works to stakeholders in the community, including teachers, parents, and others. Teachers, too, will benefit from the collaborative approach by visiting each other's classrooms and meeting to discuss and devise best classroom practices, forming their own STEM "learning communities."

During the grant's first year, the planners will come together to develop the program and get all community stakeholders involved. Over the next four years, all nine elementary schools will be brought on board, eventually reaching the targeted 1,600 students.

According to Falk, it's vitally important to engage today's elementary-age students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning at a high level in order to prepare them for the demands of the 21st-century job market.

"Nationally, we know that the jobs being created are jobs that require high amounts of skill with respect to science and mathematics," Falk says. "By engaging students early, we hope that they are prepared to meet that need and participate in the modern workforce fully."

Supporting partners include Greater Homewood Community Corp., Park Heights Renaissance, Southeast Community Development Corp., Greektown Community Development Corp., Education Based Latino Outreach, and the Child First Authority.