JASON Learning is breaking generational curses by dismantling fear, stigma, and uncertainty associated with STEM learning and careers by providing students in underserved rural communities, specifically in the Appalachian regions of Ohio, with the opportunity to have a positive experience with STEM by connecting formal and informal learning to give students the confidence to pursue careers in STEM.
“It’s time we bridge the divide between our K-12 systems and our college, career, and industry preparation programs, which leave too many students behind and perpetuate inequities in our most diverse, underserved, and rural communities”U.S Department of Education, Secretary Miguel Cardona
In rural and other underserved remote areas, there is stigma and fear associated with STEM that is fueled by a lack of access to current, relevant and engaging STEM curricula, especially for high school students. This scarcity of curriculum ranging from beginner to advanced and shortage of opportunities to experience STEM outside of the classroom are reasons rural students struggle with STEM pathways in high school and don’t pursue them after graduation. (Barshay, 2021). Overwhelmingly difficult introductory courses cause students to look outside of STEM for career pathways—driving them away from higher-paying job opportunities.
The most puzzling part of this problem is that rural students are already sitting on a wealth of STEM knowledge, but connections are not being made between what is learned in and out of the classroom. Students who are children of farmers, fishermen, loggers, and other livelihoods that depend on local resources are already learning foundational STEM concepts. Farmers use the knowledge that has been passed down through generations, such as when certain crops grow according to season and how to identify invasive species that will harm their resources. Arborists and loggers use physics to maximize safety when removing trees, such as lessening the impact and controlling the direction of a tree’s fall. Even though students witness these real-life STEM concepts being put to use, they are made to feel that they cannot pursue a career in STEM because they struggle in the classroom.
By connecting formal and informal STEM education, we can help students can find meaningful connections between their life experiences and the content learned in the classroom. Demonstrating these connections will enable students to find pathways that will prepare them for a future that is increasingly becoming more dependent on STEM careers, especially those in rural areas where students often move away after high school graduation to find stable employment.
In 2022, JASON Learning received funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to fulfill the goals outlined in the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) grant. The purpose of the project is to create economic mobility through high-quality STEM employment opportunities for Appalachian Ohioans. By working with local employers to create curricula that align lessons with skills and experience needed for employment, JASON is creating pathways for new entrants into the workforce that will allow them to obtain well-paying jobs, benefits, career advancement opportunities, and other sustainable STEM employment opportunities in existing local industries. This hyper-localized approach to creating curricula is achieved by partnering with local organizations to develop work-based learning, such as apprenticeships, customized training programs, internships, and other immersive work experiences that cannot be accomplished through traditional lecturing alone.
“Career-connected education programs are essential to the success of the American economy and will spur a new generation of researchers, engineers, and manufacturers in critical industries.”U.S Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo
Making clear career connections is a powerful tool that can be used to give students the confidence to pursue careers they never thought possible. Demonstrating how formal and informal education can be extensions of one another, rather than two separate entities, can help ease anxiety and fear associated with STEM learning in the classroom.
Regardless of background, race, ethnicity, gender, demographics, and geographic location, there is something in STEM that is for everyone. Our work in the Appalachian regions of Ohio is just one example of how we are changing the narrative and breaking down barriers that have prevented individuals in underserved communities from pursuing their passions in STEM.
Barshay, Jill. (2021). Rural American students shift away from math and science during high school, study finds. The Herchinger Report. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-rural-american-students-shift-away-from-math-and-science-during-high-school-study-finds/
United States Department of Education. (2022). U.S. Department of Education Launches New Initiative to Support Career-Connected Learning and Increase Job Pathways for Young Americans. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-launches-new-initiative-support-career-connected-learning-and-increase-job-pathways-young-americans