New education models cater to STEAM fields

Schools across the country are constantly integrating new technology into their curriculum--for example, Smart Boards in every class, tablets for every student, or computer science courses. The New York Times recently published an article on the Brooklyn STEAM Center (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), a New York City public school that is trying out a novel education structure where students learn real-world tech skills necessary for STEAM fields. The Center is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a hub for over 400 tech and manufacturing companies.

High schools select students to attend the STEAM Center, and the large majority are students of color from underprivileged backgrounds. The Center looks like a start-up—there are conference rooms, recording studios, ample white boards, and even a teaching kitchen. As one of only two schools in New York City located in a workplace setting, students learn by taking hands-on approach in a curriculum designed largely by industry experts.

This modern model is a new form of vocational schooling that allows students who otherwise may not have had opportunities to learn in the ever-growing STEAM field. The center emphasizes literacy in the modern tech world, complemented by soft skills like timeliness, responding to emails, teamwork, and networking.

The Brooklyn STEAM Center is one of the first of its kind; however, there is a growing movement supporting better STEAM preparation for teens.  For instance, Amazon started their own “Future Engineer Program,” which gives grants to qualifying high schools to implement better computer science education. They are specifically targeting schools “in lower-income communities and in states that have made computer science education a clear priority.”

For now, the students’ opinions reflected in the NYT piece are all positive--similar to the those who designed the curriculum, the students see their STEAM Center education as preparing them for survival in real-world industry. Nonetheless, this movement has not come without some reservations. While these programs seem promising for improving economic mobility for disadvantaged students, critics worry they set kids on a career track too early, at worst driving students away from a college education. It is imperative STEAM vocational education continues to prioritize students’ needs first, rather than those of employers. Regularly collecting feedback from students can help with this, as well as examining the medium-to-long term trajectories of alumni as programs age.