(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Under the roundhouse at the B&O Railroad Museum on Monday morning, the connection to Baltimore’s industrial past loomed large over the discussion of the city’s future.
“It’s not lost on me that we’re standing here with some steam engines talking about this,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
The ultimate task before the group of speakers, however, involved linking the next generation with the STEAM — that’s the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math fields) plus the arts.
Modern-day industrial titan Microsoft put down the challenge as part of the YouthSpark Connections Breakfast. Baltimore was one of 18 cities selected to host an installment of the nationwide series. Along with pointing out its student career exploration portal YouthSpark Hub, the programs look to get conversations going that address the gap between jobs available in the STEAM fields, and kids who have the necessary training and education to fill them.
The assembled education and policy heavyweights praised the educational opportunities that are being created in Baltimore. Throughout the remarks, a consensus developed that creating new approaches isn’t enough to address the disparities.
Here’s what they had to say:
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
- “We have the advantage here in our region. … We have the critical federal agencies that are located here. …We’ve got the great academic institutions. … We’ve got the workforce. More trained scientists than any other place in the world are right here. We’ve got the cyber center of the world that’s located within almost walking distance of where you are right now. So he have the tools here. Now we’ve got to figure out how are we making them connect. How do we get young people interested in the opportunities of tomorrow that can help the economy grow and help the world grow?”
Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore County Executive
- “If you go into one of our high schools today, you can use your smart device in every classroom. It’s allowed. It’s encouraged. It’s part of the curriculum. You can go on Twitter in class and converse back and forth. No more raising of the hands and waiting for the teacher to call you up. … We have to figure out how to reach [students] and come back to what I always thought were the ‘boring subjects.'”
Wes Moore, author and youth advocate
- “Everything when we think about the pulse of this nation has Baltimore attached to it. But the other thing to know is this: We can never have an honest conversation about the future of our community, if only a sliver of our population is part of the conversation.”
Gregory Thornton, Baltimore City Schools CEO
- “There’s a lot of great things going on in the city. There are wonderful opportunities. … Here’s the problem, and this is the opportunity. They’re not coordinating, folks. We’re randomly doing great things. And random acts of greatness will not create something that is transformative in the lives of the students of our city. We need the collective impact.”
Andrew Coy, Digital Harbor Foundation Executive Director
- “How do we engage students in solving real-world problems. … They want to be part of that and, they’re hungry for it. The school system is open and interested. But we need to find ways to break open different time periods of the day. How do after school and the school day interact? The school day is an experience that exposes all students to opportunity After school is an extension of that. The deep dive is a perfect marriage.”
Byron Garrett, Microsoft Director of Education Policy and Leadership
- “A student can sit at their table with their device and I can play Xbox with a kid sitting in China today in real time. So we think that they don’t understand the social and global implications, but we recognize they do. It requires us to help them reframe their understanding of how to use it so it becomes more of an employability situation, rather than just a gaming scenario.”
Verletta White, Baltimore County Schools
- “[Students] need to be able to utilize media and technology, but they also need to think about those things in very early stages of life. It’s not just a high school matter. It becomes an elementary and middle school matter for us as well. So then the resources question becomes, ‘How do we make sure students at the very youngest ages have access and opportunity as well?'”
Cindy Hasselbring, Maryland Department of Education
- “[STEM education] is for everyone. We need to help parents understand their role in that it’s OK if your student moves beyond what you learned in school. That’s alright, and it’s exciting to see kids do that.”
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