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Tigard-Tualatin schools seek equity through STEM education

Teacher: We want engineering, nursing classes to 'represent the demographic of our district'


TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Noelle Gorbett, K-12 instructional support for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, gives a talk about STEM to the AAUW Tigard Area Branch.The Tigard-Tualatin School District has been working for the past couple school years to integrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts into its curriculum, but its work is far from finished, local members of the American Association of University Women heard May 10.

Noelle Gorbett, a teacher on special assignment with the school district who works in STEM education, was the guest speaker at the AAUW Tigard Area Branch meeting in Durham. She showed pictures and talked about what Tigard-Tualatin schools have been doing to engage students with STEM — from after-school workshops to in-class activities to field trips to local manufacturers.

“We've been working with the city of Tualatin and the city of Tigard and local industry to develop career and technical education pathways in STEM that will lead to jobs that are living-wage,” Gorbett said. “That means they're going to make enough, either right out of high school or with some college, to raise a family on. We also know we have a demand for more engineers in our community, so we need to prepare our kids to go on to college so that we can fill those engineering positions that we have open.”

The school district has been focusing on the advanced manufacturing sector, which has a strong presence in Tigard and Tualatin, but may expand next to educating students about and connecting them with careers in healthcare, Gorbett suggested.

TIMES FILE PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Fifth-grade students Jacquelin Salcedo-Miranda and Carlos Torres-Hernandez build an air-powered miniature car during a STEM workshop at Tualatin Elementary School earlier this year.“We have a definite intentional approach to recruiting more girls to careers traditionally held by men, and boys to careers more traditionally held by women, and of course, more Latino students and black students to career fields that have traditionally been dominated by white students,” she said. “So we have this lens and this immediate need to get those groups involved, to make our classes in robotics and engineering, and we have health classes that are going to lead into nursing pretty soon … represent the demographic of our district. We don't want those classes to look too white, too male, too female. And it's a challenge, and we're taking up that challenge in a variety of recruitment efforts and also some training with our teachers around the bias that we all inherently have.”

Gorbett showed a photo of Tualatin High School students who have been taking automotive technology classes at the World of Speed Museum in nearby Wilsonville.

“We've got some girls,” Gorbett said. “There are some ladies in there, which is awesome for automotive tech. But yes, there are few, and yes, we need to work on that.”

The district has also worked to bring professionals from STEM fields into the classroom to talk to students and answer their questions, Gorbett said. That is something she hopes to see more of, she added.

TIMES FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Institute of Technology student Huy Le, right, helps Hazelbrook Middle School sixth-grader Parker Johnson during an after-school coding class earlier this year.“We're also trying to emphasize that we need more professionals of color and more female professionals to come in and share their time with students, so that students see themselves in the people that they're talking with who are in industry,” Gorbett said.

This school year, the Tigard-Tualatin School District has been focusing on STEM in the second, third and sixth grades, as well as high school biology.

Next year, the work is set to expand to the first, fourth and seventh grades, along with high school physics.

As Gorbett noted, the Tigard-Tualatin School District is involved with Tualatin's bid in the America's Best Communities contest. Tualatin was named a finalist in the competition last month and was awarded a $100,000 grant to begin implementing a plan that calls for investment in STEM and the arts in an effort to prepare students, especially those from non-traditional and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, for jobs in high-tech, manufacturing and other advanced fields.

The Tualatin ABC team plans to outfit a small trailer as a mobile “Makerspace,” filled with laptops and specialty design equipment, that will travel from school to school during the next academic year.

TIMES FILE PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Bridgeport Elementary School fourth-grader Aiden Valdez adds liquid to a graduated cylinder as part of an experiment during a STEM family night earlier this year.The Tigard Area AAUW offers an annual scholarship for women, particularly those involved in STEM fields, said member Linda Talluto.

“Our current recipient was here, as well as a young woman who got her scholarship, I think it was four years ago,” said Talluto, a retired teacher in the Tigard-Tualatin School District. “And she came back to tell us about her experiences in getting an engineering degree. And it was very, very difficult. She said that she was definitely prejudiced against in school. Some men were jealous of her, teachers expected more of her. So we have a long way to go. … Even in her work, the men tend to be a little resentful of her.”

She added, “We were all kind of sitting there with our mouths hanging open, because we thought we'd come further than that.”

“It's a culture change that we need to (have),” Gorbett said. “It really is.”


By Mark Miller
Reporter
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