Manatee school district success story: STEM, career programs rank with nation's best

November 11, 2012 

Gov. Rick Scott has placed great emphasis on the STEM disciplines -- science, technology, engineering and math -- at all levels of Florida's education system. The goal is to meet future workforce demands in those growing fields and improve the state's economy with sustainable and high-wage jobs.

The governor stresses that the K-12 system must meet STEM demands. He should come to Manatee County for a tour of our school district's esteemed programs in career and technical education. Scott would learn that Manatee is not only a state leader in those programs but a national one as well.

Doug Wagner, the district's director of Adult, Career and Technical Education, could give the governor a first-hand look at Manatee's offerings in all grade levels -- ranging from weekly workshops in elementary schools to career academies in high schools. Even while Manatee ranks 47th out of Florida's 67 school districts in student achievement overall, its career academies and technical training programs ranks among the best.

Scott would learn that the National Standards of Practice for career academies has recognized Manatee for its rigorous academy evaluation process. Of the district's 22 career academies -- which combine academic and college-prep curriculums with career themes in partnership with businesses and community leaders -- six have been nationally recognized as model academies in the past. Just this past week, four Braden River High academies earned NSP awards.

The governor could tour labs equipped with industrial tools, machinery and environments similar to the private sector, and talk to students well versed in robotics, engineering and manufacturing, among other fields.

Manatee's school district was at the forefront of the development of academies as one of the first in Florida to do so more than a decade ago. Now the state requires all high schools to offer at least one registered career and professional education academy. Manatee's seven high schools average three. Five have smaller learning communities.

Wagner describes the district as No. 1 in the state -- if not the nation -- for quality career and technical education at all grade levels. His confidence is borne out by the facts.

n The district is the first and only one in the nation to boast middle school students passing the SolidWorks industry certification test through their mastery of this professional design software.

n Manatee County Technology Student Association members have ranked first in the nation at the National TSA conference for the past six years. Plus, Braden River High School is both defending state and national champions in the Technology Students Association competition.

n Three Braden River High teachers have been awarded the 2012 International Technology and Engineering Educators Association High School Program of Excellence, the highest honor a technology education teacher can receive in the profession.

n A Southeast High team won the 2010 F1 in Schools world championship and finished third the following year. Just this month, two students from Lakewood Ranch High and another from Braden River were part of a joint U.S.-Canadian team that placed 13th in the world finals in the United Arab Republic. The competition involves students designing and manufacturing tiny CO2-powered balsa wood Formula 1 race cars.

The district's biggest asset is Manatee Technical Institute, nationally renowned for its adult, career and technical education programs. This year, for the ninth consecutive year, MTI students won more medals than any other school in the country at the 48th annual SkillsUSA Championships. MTI bested about 10,000 school districts and 4,000 tech centers, colleges and universities.

Wagner has now set his sights on a federal grant to expand and improve the district's programs for elementary students and create something called a "Tech Zone" at MTI. Should Manatee win the four-year $28.7 million grant, Wagner intends to place STEM labs in all of the district's 34 elementary schools plus local charter schools, and create the Tech Zone so students on field trips could gain an interactive experience. Manatee has an advantage over schools across the country as the only one with engineering labs in elementaries.

The Manatee County school district is deservedly proud of its many STEM programs. So governor, when you're out and about promoting STEM, please cite our district as the state's premier program. After a visit, of course, to see for yourself.

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