Bend school's program aims to make science fun

Tech, engineering, math too, in 'Project Lead the Way'

Girls sought in STEM fields

BEND, Ore. - Morning Star Christian School in Bend is one of just 43 schools nationwide piloting a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum provided by Project Lead The Way.

The non-profit provides hands on ways for students to learn more about those crucial topics.

The U.S. lags behind much of the rest of the world in the number of students entering the work force in these careers -- and it ranks especially low for girls. 

"Most of the boys want to learn about technology, but not the girls," said fourth-grader Piper Brannin.

It's a pattern that starts at a young age.

"Kids decide by second or third grade whether they are good at math or science," said Morning Star teacher Liz Beaty.

As of 2009, only 24 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs were held by women.

"They think they might get teased, being with boys and stuff," Brannin said.

Morning Star Christian School is trying to change that.

"We really want to see more girls pursuing science and math and engineering," said Susan Castillo, former Oregon schools superintendent and now vice president for Project Lead The Way.

They're adding special hands-on classes as early as kindergarten to show kids, especially girls, they can be whatever they want to be.

"You know, 'I'm an engineer,' or 'I'm a scientist,' or 'I'm a mathematician,' or 'I can build and solve problems with my own brain,'" Beaty said.

In the effort to close the STEM gender gap, some teachers are giving girls tailored attention.

"Like taking girls on a special field trip where they can see engineering work," Castillo said.

In just one semester of the program, Beaty says she's already seen changes. She has experienced especially rewarding moments for a woman, teaching a new generation about the technical fields.   

"Hearing the girls say, 'I didn't know science could be fun,'" Beaty said. "'I didn't know engineering could be fun.'"

Girls are finding confidence, but 9 year-old Piper says that while girls in her class are more interested in STEM now, it can blossom further in the future -- with one complimentary caveat:

"If Mrs. Beaty keeps teaching us, because she's a really good teacher," Brannin said.

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