(Photo by Olivia Gillison)
What does it mean to have a “cool school”?*
That was the question posed to the 6th, 7th and 8th graders of South Philly’s Chester A. Arthur public school on the first day of the eight-week US2020 pilot program.
You might remember that Philadelphia was one of seven cities across the country selected for the pilot last spring (our friendly neighbor Allentown, Pa., was one of three grand-prize winners). The announcement followed a challenge issued by President Barack Obama for American cities to boost student interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
A part of the Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology’s “Innovation Portfolio” for 2015, this US2020 PHL pilot program is a collaborative STEM mentorship program and interdepartmental initiative being led by Claire Healy of the Mayor’s Office of Education and OIT’s Eliza Pollack and Andrew Buss.
Buss and Pollack kicked off the first session of the pilot on Jan. 22, setting the stage for a STEM mentorship program like the city has never seen.
“STEM mentoring hasn’t been done in Philadelphia as a sustained program,” said Buss. There have been job-shadowing programs, but US2020 is the city’s first real mentoring initiative.
That means there is no template for a program like this.
— STEMcityPHL (@STEMcityPHL) February 5, 2015
OIT and MOE are paving the way for durable STEM mentorship programs that bring together city departments, businesses, universities and research institutions in an effort to stimulate STEM skills in the city.
“We’re very uniquely positioned,” said Pollack, who expressed how impressed she has been by the eagerness demonstrated by both US2020 mentors and students. The end goal for the program is to spark interest or alter students’ perspectives on STEM careers.
Oh, by the way — these students walk 30 blocks from Chester A. Arthur to the city’s new Innovation Lab with guidance counselors once a week for this program. And according to Buss, Pollack and Healy, the students actually look forward to it.
In the coming weeks, the students will attend classes on topics like open data and GIS, led by Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid, Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski and KEYSPOT Program Administrator Ben Burenstein — among several others.
The pilot program is set to continue through to March 12. Head here to read more about US2020 and Philadelphia’s proposal to further STEM education in the city.
*Some of the answers included satellite schools and the ability to phone into class when students are sick. Other answers included the school providing students with massage chairs and “pillow floors.”
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