Texas Charter Operator Gets Millions to Grow STEM Program into Elementary Schools

elementary students working on robotics

Harmony Public Schools, a charter network in Texas, will be dedicating a new five-year, $7.9 million grant to expand a STEM project-based learning model from middle and high school into its elementary schools. "Launching Elementary Academic Foundations to STEM" or "LEAF to STEM," as the initiative is named, will reach 7,000 students in 16 elementary schools. The funding was one of 18 grants announced recently by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation & Improvement.

There's no surprise that Harmony was especially singled out for the grant. In a project narrative submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, the charter system stated that a study of Harmony alumni found them to be more than twice as likely to choose a STEM major in college than typical high school students within Texas or the rest of the country. That finding held for Harmony's female, Black and Hispanic students when compared with their typical peers. Also, Harmony's class of 2019 ninth grade students were more than twice as likely to express interest in majoring in a STEM-related field as compared to other high schoolers in the state or the country, including Black and Hispanic students as well as female students (who were three times more likely to state their STEM interest).

The program funding will focus primarily on professional learning and covers three bases:

  • Curriculum and supplemental resources will be adapted to work in K-5;
  • Elementary teachers will attend a "professional development institute" to learn how to deliver Harmony's PBL inquiry-based STEM curriculum "with fidelity" (PD will occur during the summer and throughout the year); and
  • A peer-to-peer STEM-focused mentoring program will be set up for elementary teachers, tapping the expertise that already exists among middle and high school education staff.

According to an abstract about the initiative, Texas A&M University will work with Harmony to determine "the impact of LEAF to STEM strategies on the confidence and competence of elementary teachers deploying STEM-based PBL and, subsequently, on elementary student achievement."

Eventually, the program could be rolled out nationwide, the charter network promised.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.