STEMsmart is more than just another a science and math education program. It’s a whole new way of thinking about how and why we teach science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, in our local schools. And it became a movement, extending beyond classroom walls and school campuses to engage parents, volunteers, and businesses, garnering national attention in the process.
It starts with the students who rush to their math or science classes before the bell rings. They are eager to play—er, learn in their technology-rich classroom. Today’s guest speaker runs a local tech company that designs 3D video games—er, interactive education platforms to teach anatomy. This is a typical day in Sarasota County middle schools, where the way that teachers teach and students learn science, technology, engineering, and math has been transformed through Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s nationally recognized STEMsmart initiative.
In 2009, Gulf Coast’s Board of Directors took a hard look at the foundation’s grantmaking in education. Our Board asked, "Are we doing the best we can for our students?" What we discovered was that students—locally as well as nationally—were not prepared for the jobs of the future. Jobs that will require proficiency in STEM disciplines.
So Gulf Coast developed and seeded STEMsmart, a partnership with the Sarasota and Charlotte county school districts, teachers, students, and businesses. The result was a veritable movement in our community, one that empowered 21st-century teachers with 21st-century tools and techniques; improved end-of-year exam scores; increased students’ participation in advanced-level classes and their interest in STEM careers; and engaged local businesses in molding their future workforce.
Transforming Science and Math Education
While STEMsmart focused on middle schools and high schools throughout Sarasota County as well as in northern Charlotte County, the most visible transformation was the reinvention of science and math classrooms in Sarasota County’s public middle schools. Dubbed STEMsmart TechActive "Classrooms of Tomorrow," they were completely reconfigured from traditional classrooms and outfitted with state-of-the-art technology to make learning interactive, collaborative, and immediate.
Thanks to a challenge gift from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and investments from many other Gulf Coast donors, we were able to leverage our community’s philanthropic support to help the school district convert all 160 middle-school math and science classrooms. Check out this short video from Sarasota County Schools to see a classroom transform before your eyes and hear in students’ own words what STEMsmart has meant to them:
The sweeping impact of STEMsmart can be attributed, in large part, to the strong partnerships developed by Gulf Coast, the participating school districts, philanthropists, and regional business leaders. To recognize those partners and their contribution, Gulf Coast concluded the five-year initiative with the STEMsmart Collaboration Celebration and honored three leaders as STEMsmart Champions. Watch this video to meet our visionary partners and hear them describe the cumulative impact of this five-year, $9-million investment in our students’ future: