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Education leaders explore options for STEM pipeline

Updated: October 9, 2013 7:39PM

AURORA — With Aurora University’s STEM school for third- to eighth-graders slated to open next fall, local education leaders are searching for ways to create a continuum of science, technology, engineering and math programming that starts in preschool and goes through college.

Right now, local leaders say, the holes in the pipeline are first and second grade and to some degree the high school grades, as the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora is highly competitive and accepts students from across the state.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) is among the local supporters of STEM education trying to link up educators in the hopes of fostering collaboration or creating a seamless STEM path for parents and students.

“I like to start fires and stand back and let them build,” Chapa LaVia said.

On an August visit to Fox Valley Montessori School, a private school in Aurora that offers a STEM program for first to sixth grade, Chapa LaVia brought the head of school from SciTech Hands On Museum, which offers a STEM preschool and kindergarten program.

After meeting one another, the two heads of school, Fox Valley Montessori’s Denise Monnier and SciTech’s Julie Bauman, had lunch and made plans to visit one another’s classrooms to learn more about each other’s programs, both of which are relatively new.

Fox Valley Montessori recently began its second year of STEM programming and SciTech started its third.

Both schools also are looking to expand their STEM programs. Fox Valley Montessori hopes to bring more STEM offerings to its kindergarteners and preschoolers. SciTech is looking to add a first and second grade program, if funding comes through.

Bauman said as her school’s program has grown — from about eight students the first year to 32 this year — parents are looking at their future STEM options.

“I have lots of parents who’ve asked me, Julie where are we going to go next?” Bauman said. “And that’s what we’re looking at.”

Bauman said her school is looking at which schools offer STEM programming in the area so they can potentially create an established feeder system.

“This is a system that isn’t very set up,” Monnier said of the STEM pathway in Aurora. “There isn’t a specific path for those children. We don’t want to guide parents in a way that’s not going to be productive for all children.”

Chapa LaVia said building an Aurora STEM continuum also could include bringing more hands-on, STEM-related activities from museums, zoos and other organizations into local schools.

“That’s the way you excite them and make them life-long learners,” Chapa LaVia said. “Kids don’t want to be sitting reading a book.”

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