STEM Equity Training with NAPE

It has been a busy year for STEM equity training in North LRobersonTexas! With funding from industry partners and foundations including High-Tech High Heels, the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) worked with educators in four DFW-area school districts during 2013-2014: Dallas, Plano, Richardson and Lancaster. Since High-Tech High Heels brought NAPE to DFW in 2011, NAPE training has reached over 1,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and faculty in six school districts, the Dallas County Community College District and UTeach Dallas at The University of Texas at Dallas.

For educators, it is an eye-opening experience to learn how subtle, unintended biases in classrooms impact underrepresented student populations in STEM, such as females, Hispanics and African Americans. While bias is almost always unintentional, it can have far-reaching consequences for all students and can deter them from reaching their full potential in school or pursuing STEM careers. NAPE’s STEM equity training teaches educators to recognize the signs of bias and implement strategies to provide equitable education opportunities for every student.

We caught up with LaShonda V. Roberson, a middle school science teacher at Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School in South Oak Cliff, a school in Dallas ISD’s Imagine 2020 Strategic Feeder Pattern. Roberson is also a 2014 Texas Instruments Foundation “Innovations in STEM Teaching Award” winner. She attended the “Micromessaging to Reach and Teach Every Student” training, which was made possible by a grant to NAPE from the Communities Foundation of Texas.

HTHH: Why did you attend the STEM Equity training with NAPE and High-Tech High Heels?
LVR: I attended the STEM Equity training for a couple of reasons. First, to identify common mistakes teachers make in providing a fair and equal educational opportunity for all students regardless of gender and ethnicity. Secondly, to identify pedagogical strategies which will hopefully improve the representation of girls and underrepresented demographic groups in STEM courses and careers.

HTHH: What is STEM Equity training and why is it needed?
LVR: STEM equity uses research-based teaching methods to train teachers to empower and motivate underrepresented groups such as female, Hispanic and African-American students. The goal is that these students will pursue careers in STEM professions later in life. The STEM Equity training is needed because many teachers have biases that they may be unaware of, which often deters students from being interested in subjects they “think” are too challenging or not “meant” for them.

HTHH: What were the top things you learned from the training?
LVR: I learned to be more conscientious about what I’m saying nonverbally to my students, through my facial expressions and tone of voice. I also learned that there are a plethora of STEM careers that are accessible to all of my students. They aren’t as scary as they sound! Finally, I learned that I should take every opportunity to connect what we are doing in science class to everyday life as it relates to STEM.

HTHH: What was your favorite part of the training?
LVR: The presentation by the High-Tech High Heels speaker was a highlight. She is an engineer and shared her personal experience on how she broke through the glass ceiling. She shared with us the many educational levels and careers that all fit into STEM and really brought home how accessible these careers can be. I also especially enjoyed the STEM Careers Scavenger Hunt and plan to implement it in my classroom around our Career Day program.

HTHH: How has the training changed how you teach and engage with students in the classroom?
LVR: As a teacher, I tend to be very curriculum oriented to prepare my students for the next level. In recent feedback, it was suggested that I look for opportunities to reveal the many dimensions of all students in the room. It could be as simple as grouping students by “who likes salty versus sugary snacks.” This was an “ah ha” moment for me. In reflection, I realized that students need to not only learn science, but also to appreciate differences and to see others as multi-faceted personalities. I want to help my students develop their inter-personal skills so they can become effective collaborators with their future colleagues.
I am also more aware of how I interact with my students. Am I fair when I ask questions, make remarks, follow up on questions or remarks, discipline, praise, encourage, or instruct my students.

HTHH: How has the training benefited your students?
LVR: I am more cognizant of how my “micromessages” affect the classroom climate. I always want my students to feel supported and to feel comfortable making mistakes so they can learn from those mistakes. I want them to take risks, such as asking questions when everyone else is silent.

HTHH: How was this experience unique from other trainings you’ve experienced?
LVR: This session wasn’t about legislation, curriculum or testing – all of which are important – but it was about the importance of recognizing and removing gender or cultural biases that are sometimes so ingrained into our society that we are unaware of how they systematically hold students back and how this can affect generation after generation. I am very motivated to make STEM accessible to ALL of my students.

HTHH: What advice do you have for girls who are unsure about pursuing a STEM career?
LVR: I would let them know that there are a wide variety of STEM careers that require different levels of education and can match a variety of interests (i.e. indoors versus outdoors, associates degree versus doctorate degree). I would then point out some practical tools such as career interest surveys, or the Occupational Outlook handbook so she could explore her options.

HTHH: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the benefits of STEM Equity training?
LVR: Quintanilla Middle School sponsors an annual Career Day, and as a first time college graduate in my family, finding college-educated professionals to speak to my students has always been a challenge. However, this year I am reaching out to the High-Tech High Heels Speakers Bureau to connect with local STEM professionals to encourage my students to pursue a career in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math field. I’m very excited to have access to such a resource.