A forum convened by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici last week focused on how schools and businesses can integrate the arts with sciences to educate and attract more workers — particularly women and minorities — for future high-technology jobs.

Bonamici, a Democrat from Beaverton, is a founder of the congressional caucus that advocates for the arts as a part of education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We look forward to the next generation and how we make sure we have the people to do these jobs, to invent the next product and solve the world’s problems,” she said at the forum, which took place Tuesday, Oct. 13, at The Round in Beaverton.

Bonamici sits on two relevant House committees: Education and the Workforce and Science, Space & Technology.

Congress is in the process of reauthorizing federal aid to education, which turns 50 this year.

The current law, which dates to 2001 and is known as No Child Left Behind, has focused on national academic standards and test measurements — although under President Barack Obama, states have been given more flexibility and incentives to chart their own course.

Bonamici said Congress can promote arts and science education by making grants available to schools — the Senate version does this, but not the House version — and by de-emphasizing testing that focuses largely on literacy and math. She said a provision that does the latter is in both versions, which must be reconciled.

“Anything that isn’t tested — art, music, drama, physical education — suddenly became less important because the stakes were so high on testing,” she said.

“Our goal is to make sure we are moving toward a more well-rounded education that includes all disciplines and educates both halves of the brain.”

Differing paths to goal

The four panelists offered differing perspectives on just how to do that.

Marna Stalcup, director of arts education for the Regional Arts & Culture Council, says the arts were added in 2008 to STEM education in 20 schools within four area districts.

Although the arts are not part of the tests that students take to measure their progress toward academic standards that 42 states have adopted under the Common Core, Stalcup says, “the arts give them multiple ways to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in all areas.”

The tests measure literacy and math skills.

As an example, she said, first-grade students in Hillsboro learn about the earth’s water cycle while they do printmaking.

Deena Pierott, founder of iUrban Teen, says her program focuses on drawing the interest of boys between 13 and 18 from minority groups — although girls make up nearly half the participants.

The initial program, which lasts just one day on a college campus, offers workshops in topics such as digital arts, energy, environment and natural sciences, and health care.

“I wanted one day to create a spark,” said Pierott, whose program began in Portland and now operates in all three West Coast states. “I wanted to expose them to all the possibilities and interest them in a certain field.”

During its four years of operation, about 3,600 students have participated, and there are follow-up opportunities for them at five campuses, including the University of Portland. Partners include Microsoft, Disney and the FBI.

Providing support

Centro Cultural of Washington County, based in Cornelius, has offered a STEAM program — during the school year and for six weeks during the summer — for the past three years.

About 80 are enrolled during the school year, and 120 during the summer.

Maria Caballero-Rubio, its executive director, said an all-girls and all-boys team get help in preparing for Lego robotics competition.

She says it’s tough for some students, because many parents are trying to maintain households with multiple jobs and often cannot help with schoolwork.

“We are engaging them the best we can,” she said.

Kelly McCollum is co-founder of Yellow Scope, a Portland company that markets science kits to girls. Its first effort is a chemistry kit with materials similar to what boys get, instead of one tailored to personal-care products.

She says that girls lose interest in sciences — and subsequently account for only 25 percent of the current workforce in such fields — because there is no effort to engage them before they reach their teens.

“We don’t have enough qualified candidates to fill these positions, and diversity enhances the creatively of a group,” McCollum said. “By encouraging more women to pursue careers in STEM, we can help fill this gap.”

During a question-and-answer period afterward, Jackie Murphy, executive director of Airway Science for Kids based in Hillsboro, said parental involvement is critical to boost student interest and success.

David Rives, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, and a representative of the Oregon Science Teachers Association both spoke about the need to foster enthusiasm among teachers who are in a position to encourage students.

Bonamici said she would bring back some of their ideas to incorporate into federal initiatives in arts and science education.

She added she has met with executives of businesses of all types and sizes.

“I have never heard any of them say we’re looking for a good test-taker,” she said as the audience laughed.

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