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Students will lose out if they lack STEM skills

As an eighth-grade teacher at the Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School in Buffalo, I am very concerned with an alarming trend: a declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM skills. In tests of 15-year-olds from 57 countries, U.S. students rank 35th in math and 29th in science. Yet, according to a national survey, 84 percent of middle school students say they would rather clean their room, eat their vegetables or go to the dentist than learn math or science.

This is an alarming problem because 80 percent of jobs created in the next decade will require these skills. Our students need to be prepared for these jobs; their futures depend on it.

However, the budget crisis has limited our ability to bring technology into our classrooms. Lack of funding has also severely limited after-school learning opportunities geared toward igniting creative problem solving among students. Without the necessary resources, students will lose out on the excitement of STEM education and exposure to the vast array of career opportunities that require STEM.

So, how do we get students more interested in science, technology, engineering and math? We need to open the door to STEM education to all students in Buffalo. Every classroom and lab needs current technology and essential supplies to bring STEM education to life. I decided to confront this challenge head-on and asked local organizations to step up for our youth.

I'm pleased to say that many local not-for-profit organizations and corporations, such as Time Warner Cable, are committed to improving the STEM skills of our youth. For the last year, my students have personally benefited a great deal from Time Warner Cable's Connect a Million Minds program (www.connectamillionminds.com), which is the company's five-year, $100 million philanthropic initiative to inspire students to develop STEM skills.

By participating in Connect a Million Minds' "Global Online Town Hall" event and its "Cracking the Codes in the Wireless World" signature curriculum, my students and thousands like them throughout the country have been able to experience the direct connection between what they are learning in school and real-world applications.

My students have worked one-on-one with engineers and scientists, and have toured high-tech facilities. They have been exposed to a variety of career opportunities they never knew existed.

It is vital for each of us, whether we're educators, parents or community members, because these students are the innovators and problem-solvers of tomorrow. I am truly grateful to the many dedicated teachers of STEM and to Time Warner Cable for its efforts in improving our children's futures. I am hopeful that many other organizations will join us in our initiative to improve STEM education by getting actively involved with me and my students.

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Amy Brackenridge is science coordinator at the Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School in Buffalo.

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