Paving the Way: STEM Pathways Guide Marlborough Students to High-tech Jobs and High Pay
In engineering class at Marlborough STEM Early College High School, freshmen have less than an hour to use software to design and scale a pen to fit the dimensions of a 3-D printer. If they calculate correctly, the students are on their way to more than good grades and a fully functional 3-D-printed pen. They are one step closer to well-paying jobs in the high-demand industries surrounding their school—information technology, health care, and manufacturing.
The STEM Early College High School within the Marlborough Public Schools in Massachusetts immerses young people from all academic backgrounds in advanced classes and work-based learning to provide a smooth transition to college and careers in fast-growing fields requiring science, technology, engineering, and math skills. Juniors and seniors take college courses and earn college credits through partnerships with local universities. Students explore the world of work through internships with area employers, from the local hospital to Parametric Technology Corporation, an international software company that develops high-tech solutions. Students can join the STEM program starting in middle school.
With startup costs provided by a Race to the Top grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and now a part of the Pathways to Prosperity State Network created by Jobs for the Future and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Marlborough program opened three years ago and already has earned substantial attention. Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester addressed the crowd at Marlborough’s Spring STEM 2014 showcase, saying he hopes to see schools around the state embark on similar efforts. “It’s important for every school to expose students to careers and allow students to explore different possible career pathways,” he told students. “It’s important that we continue to build in that interest so that pursuing STEM is not even a question.” President Barack Obama has also supported the development of career pathways similar to that in Marlborough. The U.S. Department of Labor recently awarded Jobs for the Future a $4.9 million Youth CareerConnect (YCC) grant to scale up innovative high school models that better meet the needs of regional labor markets, with the Marlborough STEM Early College High School as one of three demonstration sites in the state.
Now JFF is leading school districts, higher education, workforce investment systems, employers, and government officials to plan an ambitious expansion that aims to transform the high school experience for Massachusetts’ youth. The YCC Massachusetts Advanced Pathways Program (MAPP) will serve 1,650 students over four years in the former industrial hubs of Brockton and West Springfield, as well as in Marlborough. The three high schools will increase STEM courses, enhance work opportunities, and offer at least 12 college credits and industry-recognized credentials. Their goal is for more graduates, many who come from low-income backgrounds, to earn postsecondary credentials, land good jobs and establish successful careers, and become engaged citizens and lifelong learners, always leaving open the option of further education.
The Pathways to Prosperity Network seeks to help solve a national crisis: Almost half of all Americans reach their mid-20s without the skills or labor market credentials essential for success in today’s economy. The 10-state network combines high school, community college, and occupational training to propel students to a diploma, a postsecondary credential with high labor market value, and a family-supporting career. Ultimately, the network aims to ease the nation’s skills gap by forming statewide systems of academic and career pathways for grades 9-14. Across the country, 25 regional partnerships focus on building a talent pipeline for industries that report difficulty in finding workers with the specific skills they need.
The center of the state’s “Innovation Corridor,” the Marlborough region has the second largest concentration of health care jobs in Massachusetts and nearly one-third of the state’s technology jobs. The city is home to big-name corporations such as Boston Scientific, Raytheon, and Dow Chemical, with hundreds more biotech, energy, manufacturing, and medical companies nearby. But few Marlborough youth find high-tech work in their own backyard. For years, employers have looked to skilled foreign workers to fill many positions, saying they couldn’t find enough local qualified candidates. The school district had been searching for ways to boost its graduates to better opportunities when it teamed up with Jobs for the Future, known nationally for preparing disadvantaged youth for college and career success through early college high schools.
With research indicating that many people begin to form career interests before their teens, organizers decided to start the new STEM program simultaneously in the sixth and ninth grades. Project-based learning engages students to use the engineering design process to solve real-world problems and motivates them to succeed in class.
While sixth graders create hook-and-shelf devices to clean up their rooms, ninth graders invent ways to make their school more energy efficient. Tenth graders design prototypes to sustain life on Mars. High school students work in groups emulating high-tech startups and rotate roles to learn about finance, marketing, and management, as well as engineering design. At the end of the year, they present capstone projects in a giant science fair called the Spring STEM Showcase in the school’s field house.
Julia Dougherty, who will soon be a junior, says the engineering projects opened her mind beyond her initial career interest in medicine. “I want to help design robots to help people stay alive,” she told visitors to the spring showcase. “The STEM classes helped me think of jobs that I hadn’t thought of before.”
STEM ECHS will be fully enrolled for the first time in the 2014-15 school year, with 600 students spanning grades 6-12, at Whitcomb Middle School and Marlborough High School. The inaugural senior class of 64 students is set to graduate in the spring.
“STEMsters,” as the students are known, represent the diversity of the district, including low-income, Latino, English language learner, and special education students. Some of next year’s graduates will be the first in their families to attend college, according to Dan Riley, who directs the program. Over 30 percent come from low-income backgrounds.
While it is too early to point to graduation rates or college admissions, the STEM ECHS has demonstrated early signs of success. STEM students outscored the high school’s average on state tests in science, math, and English, and most of next year’s STEM juniors qualified to take college classes.
More to Come
In fall of 2014, ninth graders—who started their STEM focus in middle school—will be the first group in the expanded MAPP program. Approximately 100 students will begin ninth grade each year. Marlborough’s $1.8 million share of MAPP federal funds will fuel improvements to set up the program for the long run. Rather than inviting college professors to teach English and other college classes, partners in higher education will train Marlborough teachers to teach college courses themselves. Students will start with AP calculus and AP biology and then move on to college-level computer science and biotechnology courses.
The region’s Workforce Investment Board, the Partnership for a Skilled Workforce, is taking the lead in forming a regional steering committee that will identify industry partners and enhance the career components. Employers will help shape the curriculum, teach lessons at the high school, and open their work places for every student. There will be a continuum of work-based learning opportunities, including job shadowing, mentoring, and internships.
Partners officially signed on so far include Marlborough Hospital, Boston Scientific, Raytheon, the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, Parametric Technology Corporation, Quinsigamond Community College, and Framingham State University. More business partners will continue to be added.
Infusing the School
With its school-within-a-school model, STEM classes are distinct from other high school classes, yet students who are not participating directly in the STEM program still benefit. Teachers share curriculum ideas, instructional techniques, and other best practices for interdisciplinary, project-based classes. The program also fosters greater school-wide awareness of what it means to become college and career ready in the 21st century.
Riley heralds the construction of a new computer science lab that will serve the whole school: “We’re looking forward to the opportunities the program will create for all of our students.”
The Marlborough Model
The Marlborough STEM Early College High School in Massachusetts is a model for preparing students from all academic backgrounds for the high-pay, high-growth jobs of the future. Part of the 10-state Pathways to Prosperity Network, the program features:
- A STEM-focused middle school program that prepares students in grades 6-8 for advanced work in high school.
- An integrated college-prep and career-focused curriculum in grades 9-10.
- Dual enrollment in college courses toward postsecondary and industry-recognized credentials in grades 11-12.
- Interdisciplinary projects to engage students in solving real-world problems.
- A continuum of work-based learning through mentoring, job shadowing, and internships.
- Comprehensive college and career guidance, including a detailed and frequently updated “individual development plan.”
- Wraparound support services, such as counseling, afterschool tutoring, and transportation to and from worksites.
- Deep involvement by industry partners and higher education institutions for curriculum development and teacher training.
Download a PDF version of Marlborough STEM Early College High School profile.
Read profiles of non-STEM early college schools.