Major Investment in STEM Education

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The Helios Education Foundation is investing $4 million in the Arizona STEM Network. Led by Science Foundation Arizona, the Network is a statewide plan to improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math. Darcy Renfro of SFAz and Paul Luna of Helios explain how the money will be used.

Ted Simons: The Helios Education Foundation is investing $4 million in Arizona's STEM network, a statewide plan led by Science Foundation Arizona, to improve students in science, technology, engineering and math. Earlier I spoke with Darcy Renfro, Science Foundation Arizona's vice president of education and coordinator of the STEM network, and Paul Luna, president and CEO of the Helios Education Foundation. Let's talk about this grant, the idea of getting money for a pilot initiative.

Darcy Renfro: This is really about helping to improve Arizona's education system for all kids in the state, and really ultimately improving Arizona's economy. We're doing this in partnership with Helios Education Foundation to build what we call Arizona STEM network. Part of that is a pilot that will help School Districts integrate education day to day and improve outcomes for kids. There are other parts of the stem network that bring together best practices, assets, coordination and leverage existing work, in a much more strategic way than we have been doing before.

Ted Simons: I want to talk more about the network in a second here. As far as the grant is concerned, $4 million for how long and for what?

Paul Luna: The money is spread across three years and it's primarily what we would call a strategic investment in Science Foundation Arizona and the development of the stem network. The key from the Helios point of view, students need to graduate from high school college and career ready. We need to help students be academically prepared for success. The opportunity to partner with Science Foundation Arizona and make these STEM practices available to students and teachers in the classroom, is critically important to their success.

Ted Simons: How many schools will be working through the pilot?

Paul Luna: We haven't yet identified exactly the number of schools we want to -- part of the process will be to help identify across the entire state the schools that would be best aligned for us to work with.

Ted Simons: What are you looking for to identify those schools?

Darcy Renfro: We're looking for leadership and strong support for a STEM-based approach. Some are really a hands-on way of teaching and learning that really engages kids in math and science and engineering in new ways. We wanted to really change cultures of high expectations and high achievement and use stem as the vehicle to get there. We will look for leadership and support and the ability for districts that have a vision to bring stem to improve student outcomes and to be innovative.

Ted Simons: I read about something called an immersion matrix. Is this to help identify the schools, or help the schools once they are identified?

Darcy Renfro: Both. The immersion matrix is something built in response to over -- we went across the state and got input as to what was needed, and how could we help school districts do better with student education. We created this matrix as guide, diagnostic, to help schools identify where they were, and a guide to implement more STEM and how to bring community players together, how to bring business to the table. How to integrate teaching, what that looks like. We put that into an online tool and use it as a pilot site to guide the process.

Ted Simons: How do you introduce these new ideas to schools. They say they want it and now they have it but don't know what to do with it.

Paul Luna: In understanding the uniqueness of this pilot, there are not many states if any across the country doing this type of work. We talk about improvement in areas of education we need for Arizona, and there almost -- this is an example where Arizona is leading the way, in particular of the development of the STEM network itself, and this pilot that's going to really help students, teachers, how to integrate stem into their schools. It's something we can ideally replicate across the state to all types of schools.

Ted Simons: And this money would go for tech support, that type of thing?

Paul Luna: The investment from Helios frankly is multifaceted. We are investing in the infrastructure of the STEM itself to make sure there is a statewide platform for championing STEM across the state for the development of the knowledge-management system, so we can disseminate the type of information and learning. In particular, funding goes to the pilot. So the support of the process to then provide funding to the schools to the implement the school programs.

Ted Simons: The STEM network is the overall plan?

Darcy Renfro: Correct. That is really what the STEM network is about. It's about bringing in good information, being able to capture that, deploy that information and give it to the people that need it in the right way at the right time. We need a way to find that and replicate that. These pilot sites will give us an opportunity to put that into action.

Ted Simons: Talk about the relationship between the STEM network and the Helios Foundation. What's going on here? How did you hook up?

Darcy Renfro: It's been a long-standing relationship and Helios has been with us through the development of this network. When science foundation started to focus more and more on STEM education, we were working together and realized we share a common objective. We want stronger student achievement and higher expectations for kids. What we were able to bring with our science foundation board of directors and staff is a specific focus on STEM and an expertise that Helios recognized and today we think we have what that is to really make strong and long-term changes.

Ted Simons: Why is Helios so concerned about this?

Paul Luna: Because this is about the future of Arizona, about ensuring that we are preparing students for the type of global economy they will be competing in. We are talking about ensuring that they have the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities companies are looking for to ensure we're that vibrant economy in the future.

Ted Simons: Thank you both for joining us, we appreciate it.

Both: Thank you very much.

Darcy Renfro:SFAz; Paul Luna:Helios;

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