Editorial: STEM school a good sign of things to come

09/19/2014 5:00 AM |
Andrew Hubner of Shoreham-Wading River High School, physics teacher Andrew Kolchin, Asia McElroy from Riverhead High School and former Riverhead High School student Phil Becker of Bay Shore do some experiments with Newtown's Cradle Friday at BOCES' new Regional STEM high school in Bellport. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Andrew Hubner of Shoreham-Wading River High School, physics teacher Andrew Kolchin, Asia McElroy from Riverhead High School and former Riverhead High School student Phil Becker of Bay Shore do some experiments with Newton’s Cradle Friday at BOCES’ new Regional STEM high school in Bellport. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Any regular consumer of news beyond the local level won’t find it shocking to hear that the United States has fallen behind many other developed countries in science and technology achievement. 

A five-year plan issued by the federal government last year noted that 19 percent of the country’s bachelor’s degrees are awarded in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields — STEM, as they are collectively known. Meanwhile, in China, over 50 percent of first degrees are obtained in the same fields.

And in a world that’s clearly becoming ever more technology focused (how long since you checked your iPhone?), people with advanced training and education in such fields will be needed to fill the growth in those industry jobs. As a matter of fact, they are already needed.

Enter the Gary Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport.

Available to students from all 51 school districts that comprise Eastern Suffolk BOCES, the new high school has a small enrollment at the moment — just seven students — but its mere existence is a positive sign, a tangible commitment from New York State to invest in its future. That commitment came, in part, in the form of a $100,000 check secured by state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who chairs the state Senate’s higher education committee.

While a more typical math and science curriculum at local high schools might still be the best route for many students, the tools — not to mention the overall hands-on environment — that Bixhorn Tech Center can offer are a jewel for willing local students more inclined toward the statistical than the artisanal.

It seems that a ceiling on its potential — or that of any STEM school in the state, for that matter — remains in place. Teenagers may be less inclined to enroll in such a program now since, on top of their STEM work, they’d still have to fulfill the same course requirements as their peers in other subjects. Setting the bar for English regents, for example, at the same level for STEM and non-STEM students, could prove counterproductive.

Nonetheless, training in any field takes time, and with Americans as a whole struggling to keep up with global competitors, we have some ground to make up. While success is by no means guaranteed for those interested in attending the Bixhorn Technical Center, getting those students more excited about STEM and giving them the tools they need to succeed at the next level is a laudable step toward our state’s long-term economic health.

This time next year, we hope to be writing about an increase in enrollment there, and more demonstrable progress toward that goal.

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