For the past year, job preparation for science, technology, engineering and math careers has been at the top of the priority list in The Windy City.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his staff have forged a series of pilots and partnerships that bring STEM education front and center. In the last year, five STEM schools launched with help from partner companies and city colleges. A pilot of Web development courses will start in the fall, and a new partnership with the Navy will provide more STEM education opportunities for students.
"STEM is where the job growth of the future is going to be," said Beth Swanson, deputy chief of staff for education at the mayor's office, "and that's why we've obviously made it a priority here in Chicago on our education reform agenda."
The STEM priority has come from the federal government too. In President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Feb. 12, Obama announced a challenge to redesign high schools so that they prepare graduates for a high-tech economy.
"We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — the skills today's employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future," Obama said in his speech.
After the president's call to action, Chicago decided to look for even more opportunities to give students skills in these areas. Because both Chicago and the Navy need to fill high-tech jobs with skilled recruits, they formed a partnership, which they announced on Feb. 15, to create STEM summer camps, enrichment programs, and more dual enrollment programs.
The intensive STEM camps, which will be open to more than 1,000 students in the city's Early College STEM Schools and the Rickover Naval Academy, will emphasize learning by experience with hands-on problems.
The enrichment component could include after-school programs and mentorships that connect curriculum with the real world. And dual enrollment programs will give students a head start on college-level classes in computer science.
Chicago wants to do the same thing with its high school students that it does with its college students: bridge them from high school to college and then into high-growth industries. Even on the K-8 level, a STEM magnet school gives its students the opportunity to practice engineering.
"We are going to continue to look at our high-growth industries," Swanson said, "and make sure our education systems align to prepare kids for both college and career."