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December 04. 2013 8:38PM

Ted Gatsas and Bob Baines: STEAM Ahead will transform students' lives in Manchester

STEAM Ahead is a true public/private partnership that is unprecedented in its scope, ambition and innovation. More than a year ago, we began to engage major educational and community players from a cross-section of organizations, institutions and businesses who came together to see what could be done to improve education in Manchester. With leadership from Jeremy Hitchcock from Dyn and Nick Soggu from SilverTech, representatives from West High School, the Manchester School District, Manchester Community College and the University System of New Hampshire began planning STEAM Ahead. Jeremy and Nick are products of the Manchester school system. We believe that Manchester can and should be an innovation hub for education.

We are all aware that more graduates with skill and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will drive economic development. STEAM Ahead addresses these same concerns but also includes the study of the arts, which is imperative for our students to think creatively, critically and collaboratively. The STEAM Ahead program, when approved by the Manchester School Board, would begin as a pilot program at West High School in the fall of 2014 and will enable students to earn a minimum of one year of college credits (30 credits) by the time they graduate high school at no cost to the students or their parents.

In a time when the cost of higher education continues to rise, this will help make it more obtainable for our students. With students taking college classes while still in high school, we may be able to change the way these young people perceive themselves. Many do not look at themselves as college material. But by taking these classes, and succeeding, they may realize they can and should pursue educational opportunities beyond high school.

This program is much more than simply taking college courses while in high school. Students will also be able to earn credit through internships with local companies and organizations, such as Dyn, SilverTech, the Currier Museum of Art and the Palace Theatre.

Students will be aware of the many opportunities available to them after graduation while businesses and organizations will have access to the bright young minds in our city. STEAM Ahead acknowledges and embraces that students can learn, benefit and grow both inside and outside the traditional classroom.

The STEAM Ahead initiative also looks to put a greater emphasis on the professional development of our high school teachers who are often so swamped with teaching, grading, mentoring and the many other things they do on a daily basis that they have little time to seek additional professional development. Teachers will be provided with a wide variety of professional development opportunities through programs coordinated with our higher education partners and the business community.

As teachers are the primary engagers of students and STEAM education, it is critical to provide them with research on how students learn with emerging technologies and strategies to support more students in the STEAM fields. There will also be opportunities to increase the number of teachers who have advanced degrees in their subject areas.

This is what makes STEAM Ahead so special, a true collaboration of our community. It is almost unimaginable to think that so many players would come to the table, put their self-interest aside, and create a program that will change the lives of students within Manchester. Even though STEAM Ahead is still awaiting approval, it seems it is already teaching us some valuable lessons.

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Ted Gatsas is the mayor of Manchester. Bob Baines is a former mayor, high school principal and college president.


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