Students in a Texas school district are getting the benefits of hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning because of corporate sponsors who are vested in their success.
Texas City Independent School District covers nine schools in Texas City and four in neighboring La Marque. Approximately 70 percent of the district’s students are considered disadvantaged.
Those students needed more hands-on opportunities to hone their science, technology, engineering and math skills. Creative Learning Systems SmartLabs were an obvious solution.
There was just one problem: Texas City ISD couldn’t afford to fund the labs, which cost more than $200,000 each.
“It’s not always easy to find that kind of extra money in school district budgets” said Deborah Laine, executive director of Texas City ISD Foundation for the Future and director of community relations for Texas City ISD. So the district asked for help and the oil industry, representatives of which are active on the foundation’s board, stepped up.
In 2013, Valero Energy Corporation funded a lab at Blocker Middle School. This fall, the Marathon SmartLab opened at Texas City High School under the sponsorship of Marathon Petroleum Co.
Funding the labs wasn’t merely an act of altruism. It was a smart business move, said Connie Bradley, general manager of Marathon Petroleum’s Texas Refining Division. “If our kids are successful, our community is more successful,” Bradley said. “That’s better for your business. We always try to hire local employees if we can, but they have to meet our qualifications.”
Helping students get hands-on STEM learning is a crucial piece of that puzzle. “If we don’t educate our kids, they don’t have a chance,” Bradley said. SmartLabs are giving them that chance.
STEM Lab Teacher Stacey Richardson said the labs are helping students become familiar with technology “that was once not available for them to even experience.” They’re learning how to work with scientific sensors, robotics, electrical and pneumatic circuits and more — practical skills that are building a solid foundation for their professional success. “I think this is going to be the future of education and everyone that is able should do all they can to try and supply the opportunity for students to learn in this manner,” Richardson said.
For corporations considering a similar donation, Bradley has one message. “If you’re going to support your community and spend dollars in your community, (education) should be a highest priority,” she said. “There’s no way they could provide these innovative materials without community partnership.”