Ask a teen which career they’d like to pursue, and they might say “law” if their parent is an attorney, or “being an influencer” because, well, they’re a teen. Or they might have a career in mind but not know exactly what it entails on a day-to-day level. This is where practical learning programs come in.
Educators in the Beachwood City School District in Ohio are helping students get a better handle on the future with a pair of innovative programs familiarizing them with the possibilities of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.
Beachwood Middle School Students Go Hands-On with Project-Based Learning
The Career Design and Exploration program at Beachwood Middle School opens doors to opportunities in STEM. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the program try their hands at everything from power tools to 3D printers and laser and vinyl cutters and other experiential learning methods to make their own creations.
“The goal is to let them know what’s available in terms of careers, but also to show them how their studies tie into the projects we’re working on,” says J.C. Lenk, educational technology expert at the school. “They use math to plan their woodworking projects and science as they test things.”
Lenk has been particularly impressed with kids’ willingness to try new things and their resilience as they puzzle out ways to solve problems during project-based learning. He encourages them to make something useful during the woodworking segment. “It’s nice to see how caring they are,” he says. “Most of them make products like cutting boards, picture frames and plaques—for family and friends rather than themselves.”
Lenk also finds the sessions build confidence in their skills apart from pure academics. “The benefit of this curriculum is that every kid can find something they can succeed at,” says Lenk.
Bringing Science to Life at Beachwood High School with STEM Activities
As Beachwood youth progress to high school, they can explore medical fields through the Beachwood Medical Academy, a year-round program that prepares students for competitive pre-med programs through advanced coursework and hospital immersion experiences, including the two summer camps.
Incoming eighth and ninth graders can participate in Beachwood Medical Academy, a three-day experience learning opportunity where they shadow physicians at University Hospitals’ Ahuja Medical Center. The students participate in a variety of cool activities, performing ultrasounds, conducting heart and lung dissections and studying X-rays, explains Linda LoGalbo, Beachwood City Schools director of curriculum and instruction.
Those in 10th grade and above can sign up for an anatomy and physiology session in partnership with Case Western Reserve University’s physician assistant program. For two days, they learn some basics in classroom-based workshops, then visit the cadaver lab for anatomy sessions.
“We want them to see how many options there are and the wide variety of careers in the medical field,” LoGalbo says. “They get the chance to meet cardiologists, pulmonologists, orthopedic surgeons and radiologists, to name a few, who share the various paths they took.”
For example, some physicians took pre-med courses in college, while others pursued a liberal arts route first, then attended medical school. “It’s exciting for the students to start seeing how they can plan to diversify their experiences and see what’s available to them,” she says.
LoGalbo is regularly impressed by the feedback she receives from the school district’s professional partners. “They note how engaged the kids are and the great questions they ask. These kids definitely make the most of the time they have because they realize not all high schoolers get to participate in something like this.”
She is particularly proud of the wide range of youth who join these STEM programs, reflecting the school’s diverse student population. “I have seen numerous studies highlighting the importance of having a healthcare provider who looks like you. We are helping create that diversity as we expose this large variety of kids to the field of medicine.”
Lenk adds, “Who knows where their lives might eventually go? It’s a joy to give families this opportunity to consider so many potential paths.”