Biologist Kaleigh LaRiche is a first-year science teacher in a Cleveland middle school, she spent the majority of her first two years after college working in wildlife education at the Akron, Ohio zoo.

LaRiche, who will receive her master’s in education from the University of Akron this spring, attributes her confidence in the classroom to the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship. The two-year master’s program recruits accomplished science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) college graduates, as well as career changers like LaRiche, and puts them through their paces in preparation to work in high-need schools.

Pat WymanIt is one of several model programs leading the charge to fulfill President Barack Obama’s call for 100,000 highly qualified STEM teachers over the next decade, and to get them ready for the much-anticipated new K-12 math and science standards. With only 26 percent of U.S. 12th graders now deemed proficient in math, most states have adopted more rigorous new Common Core Standards for what kids should master at each level.

These guidelines stress depth over breadth; a separate effort, the Next Generation Science Standards, emphasizes questioning and discovery rather than rote memorization.

The Wilson Fellowship partners with several graduate schools of education in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey, including the University of Indianapolis, Ball State University, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Montclair State University.

Almost from the start, fellows are immersed for the school year in local K-12 classrooms. LaRiche’s four-day-a-week internship at a Canton, Ohio, middle school provided a $30,000 stipend and two mentors to show her the ropes. Course work included classes in the biology department and on problem- and project-based learning.

LaRiche is now a licensed teacher at Cleveland’s Harvard Avenue Community School. When covering renewable and non-renewable energy in her sixth grade science class, she breaks students into groups and has them examine which renewable energy alterative would work best for a fictitious town and why.

Continue reading about the effort to produce more STEM teachers.

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STEM Teachers