HPISD Board President Joe Taylor (far left) and Superintendent Dr. Tom Trigg (far right) join Francie Moody-Dahlberg (l), chairman and executive director of the Moody Foundation, Jamie Williams (c), director of regional grants of the Moody Foundation, and Jan Peterson (r), executive director of the HP Education Foundation

It all started in August 2016 when...

 

The Moody Foundation announced in a grant of nearly $5.8 million over the next five years to support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) education in the Highland Park Independent School District. The grant, made through the Highland Park Education Foundation, is not only the largest ever given to Highland Park ISD but is believed to be the largest grant of its kind to a school education fund in Texas. 

The grant created the Moody Innovation Institute, which will be driven by teacher professional development combined with a cross-disciplinary approach and alignment of STEAM curricula throughout the district. It will shift the focus of STEAM education from textbooks to experiential learning, allowing students to engage in problem-solving and collaboration. In addition, the grant will allow the district to enhance the integration of technology into all STEAM subjects. 

While content learning is a significant part of competency assessment at the state and national level, STEAM problem-solving techniques and abilities can be applied to all areas of study by creating a coherent and rigorous curriculum in which depth of study is a focus.  As a result, the focus becomes problem-based learning as a technique for determining solutions to issues in addition to simply learning content. The combination of these two strengths in their academic ability can better prepare students for further study and also for future employment.

 

Why is this critical now?

The United States is falling significantly behind other countries in awarding science and engineering advanced degrees. In fact, the greatest percentage of students in these courses in U.S. colleges and universities are from countries other than the United States. The lack of trained STEAM professionals who are American citizens has the potential to significantly erode the economy. The US ranks 40th in the world in mathematics by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a level that is completely unacceptable to American industry and most U.S. citizens.

According to the National Research Council of National Academies, more than half of the growth in per capita income in the 21st century will be directly related to advances in scientific technology. Education in the U.S. needs to focus strongly on increasing the number of American students in STEAM programs and to therefore assist in the expansion of the workforce of STEAM-capable candidates.

Simply put, STEAM is where the jobs are expected to be for the next generation of students. It is predicted that STEAM job creation will account for 60 percent of new jobs created in the U.S. in this century and that jobs requiring advanced STEAM education will grow by as much as 45 percent during that same time frame.  Additionally, STEAM-educated professionals command significantly higher salaries and are far less likely to suffer job loss.

 

Why Highland Park Independent School District?

The overall goal of STEAM education at a schools like Highland Park is not to create a school district of scientists and engineers, although increasing the number of students pursuing those career tracks is certainly a positive.  Actually, the goal is to encourage an understanding of the interrelationships of academic disciplines and to create a STEAM-literate student body which will develop into a STEAM-literate workforce and electorate.  Ultimately, the goal is to increase the competitiveness of the United States in the global economy.

Currently, HPISD students significantly outperform their peers nationally in standardized tests. As one of the top-rated comprehensive schools in the country, it is imperative that HPISD students lead the way in STEAM education and in pursuing STEAM-related careers. The future of education at HPISD must include enhanced and real-world opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics beginning in the early years of the education of each child.

As leaders in business and in the community, HPISD graduates, particularly those who are not interested directly in STEAM careers, will need to have a broad understanding of technology and STEAM problem-solving techniques to help our country face the problems that will be confronted in the future.

In the future, over time, the American electorate will have to make vital decisions about what it believes are the most effective ways to solve problems and which candidates are the most effective in dealing with world-wide issues.  It is vital to the future of our country to develop a STEAM-literate electorate that understands and appreciates the role of technology and of scientific inquiry in decision-making and problem-solving.

Highland Park’s STEAM program and the Moody Innovation Institute will create a blueprint for education that will impact the way children learn across the country and the way our children provide global leadership in the future.