Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and its famous computers, will soon have a connection to Manatee County and its young students.
Wozniak left the technology giant in 1985 and shifted his focus to the nation’s classrooms, starting Woz U Education about two years ago. With the goal of preparing young students for a changing workforce, one that places increasing value on technology, his company launched Woz Pathways.
The program is coming to Palm View Elementary School next year, when the campus will begin its transition to a K-8 school.
While other school districts utilize small chunks of the program, Manatee is the first to implement five areas of study at one time, according to district officials.
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Doug Wagner, the deputy superintendent of operations, visited Palm View to make the announcement on Thursday evening, alongside Superintendent Cynthia Saunders.
“We’re the first in the whole state of Florida that is implementing everything,” he said. “Most schools start with one.”
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will pick from the five areas of study, or “pathways,” which include engineering, drone repair, coding, cybersecurity and mobile development.
Wagner said the program will later expand to include data science, animation and artificial intelligence. Palm View was a good candidate for the program, he said, because its capacity leaves room to grow.
“Our students are going to be the very best prepared for some of those new, high-tech careers,” he said.
The announcement came during an evening dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, officially known as STEM education. Students ran from the parking lot to the school’s entrance, where cups of Kona Ice greeted them.
Students built structures out of marshmallows and toothpicks, then calculated the area and perimeter of their creations. They sorted colored Cheerios and built paper rockets.
But the crowd favorite was a chance to make slime from glue, starch, food coloring and glitter.
“I know it’s hard to compete with a table of slime making — I do understand,” the superintendent said, preparing to announce Palm View’s incoming program.
While the school’s K-5 students will experience Woz Pathways, the program is limited to 300 sixth-graders in its first year. Each will receive a tablet while enrolled in the courses.
Wagner said it would cost the district less than $50,000 to get started. Karen Young, the chief executive officer of Woz U Education, said the nonprofit Woz U Foundation contributed a “significant amount” to make the plan a reality.
Palm View is a Title I school that serves hundreds of economically disadvantaged students, and the program could offer a path to future success. More than 72,000 STEM jobs were advertised statewide in August, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
“Each day, we get more and more technology in society, and these children are being informed and excited about something that’s going to be a part of their future,” said Tarrah Keefe, the STEM teacher at Palm View.
She also works for the school’s Technology Student Association, an arm of the national STEM organization. One of her members, Nubian Reed, hopes to join Woz Pathways and continue her study of technology.
“It helps me learn new things,” she said.