Umana Celebrates STEM Week

When the Mario Umana Academy originally opened it did so as the Umana/Barnes School of Math and Science. At the time, there was talk of including the school as one of Boston’s ‘exam schools,’ but the community fought to keep the school a community school for East Boston students. When the school was built, the classrooms were equipped with what was considered state-of-the-art science labs and an emphasis on math and science.

During the last week of October middle school students at the Umana celebrated the Second Annual STEM Week–a citywide celebration of the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum. 

At the Umana middle schoolers invited elected officials like Rep. Adrian Madaro, as well as Umana students from lower grades to view science experiments and projects that middle school students created inside Umana science teacher Anthony Forbes’s lab. 

The theme for the second annual STEM Week was “See Yourself in STEM.” 

Forbes explained that women, people of color, first-generation students, as well as low-income individuals, English language learners, and people with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM industries. While they make up an increasing portion of the overall workforce the demographics of STEM fields have remained largely the same. 

“It’s a great opportunity when students get to engage in project based learning experiences; especially when they deal with real world problems,” said Forbes. “We need more young people to see themselves in STEM.”

Rep. Madaro said he was impressed by the students’ work at the Umana. 

“STEM education is a hands-on approach that keeps students engaged in the skills that will build relevance to today’s innovation economy and the increasingly technological world around them,” said Madaro. “STEM ensures that students from all backgrounds are getting important hands-on learning in STEM.”

Last year the Umana received a grant from United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Boston After School & Beyond to expand STEM learning at the school. The grant is part of the Department of Education’s multi-year Education, Innovation and Research program to fuel the expansion of Boston Public School’s BoSTEM at the Umana and other schools citywide.

Launched in 2015, BoSTEM has become a proven collaboration between schools and community partners dedicated to engaging all Grade 6-8 BPS students in STEM learning opportunities to help ensure they succeed in 21st century careers.

The five-year, $3.9 million grant at the Umana and other schools aims to increase student interest in STEM and STEM-related careers, as well as refine, scale and evaluate BoSTEM as a best practice for quality STEM education and college/career readiness. The goals of BoSTEM include reaching 10,000 Grade 6-8 students over the next five years. Chang added that BPS also wants to increase STEM interest and achievement by improving social and emotional competency and well-being. This would include aligning curriculum and instruction across school and out-of-school time and providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities with STEM industry professionals.

Research shows when students view math or science favorably, their academic achievement in those subjects is higher, which further encourages them to pursue potential STEM careers. Yet the number of Boston eighth-graders who report their favorite subject is math or science is one-half the rate reported by fourth-graders. For many students, eighth grade is also the year when they begin to make course selections for high school that will chart their future career path.

Students currently participating in BoSTEM are overwhelmingly qualified as high-need students or economically disadvantaged. In addition, 92 percent of the participating students are African American or Latino, who are under-represented in STEM education and careers.Change the Equation, a national organization dedicated to strengthening STEM education, recently released a report and found the percentage of minorities in STEM careers remains virtually unchanged since 2001. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, African Americans and Latinos make up 48 percent of the overall U.S. workforce yet they only fill 24 percent of STEM jobs.

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