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Start STEM Education Early to Engage All

by Neal Brown, Green Acres School, Head of School

My niece Maddie visited us this past weekend. She is an undergrad from a small New England college—full of youthful playfulness and genuine curiosity about her studies, and an absolute joy to have around and a wonderful role model for my two Green Acres middle schoolers.

Without being too much of a bragging uncle, I should tell you that Maddie is an incredibly hard working and talented student. Just two weeks ago, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, something not too many of us can claim. Perhaps what I admire most about Maddie is that learning is something that flows naturally from her and is much more important to her than any of the grades or accolades that have and will continue to come her way. In fact, if Maddie were to find this blog, my guess is that she would not enjoy the exposure!

What may set Maddie most apart, though, is that she will graduate this spring with a degree in Physics (she is double-minoring in Japanese and Linguistics, but that’s another story). As you might imagine, Maddie’s chosen major makes her a gender minority in her field.

Recently, Eileen Pollack wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine entitled “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science.” In it, she demonstrated how the culture of this country continues to work insidiously to dissuade girls and young women from choosing careers in science. Convinced all too often of their lack of skill, both in math and in the sciences, girls give up and choose alternative paths. This isn’t 1950, but it doesn’t sound all that different.

The statistics on the lack of American women in science are troubling on many levels, and it is particularly concerning when consider the tremendous demand nationally and globally for people (men and women) to enter fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the STEM professions).

One way to confront this challenge is to expose kids to the relevance and excitement of STEM from a young age. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) visited Cornell last year and delivered a similar message.

At Green Acres, we work to integrate science with other subjects, to engage kids in building and engineering from our earliest grades, and to look for connections in particular between math and science. While many public schools are cutting back science time and offerings, we make it a central and significant part of each student’s studies, beginning in Pre-K. We strive to engage kids on their level and through their natural interest in the world around them (a.k.a. science). In our science classrooms, the low-pressure but high-engagement environment enables all students (of both genders) to develop both a genuine affinity for science and a clear appreciation for how science connects to other subjects and to their lives in general.

When we help convince all of our students, from the earliest grades, that they are already scientists, we believe that we are doing our part to counter a national culture that continues to suggest that science is better for one gender than the other.

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