Luca Turano is still in seventh grade at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville, but he already knows that he wants some type of career in technology.
Monday night he told the District 203 Board of Education why the district’s Project Lead the Way program is a good investment in his future.
“I really knew I wanted to take the tech courses,” he told the board, stressing that while he didn’t “know exactly where” in the technology field he would build his future, the program was one that could benefit students of all kinds.
The project began last year in all of the district’s junior high schools. It involves preparing today’s students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates the demand for jobs in the STEM fields will grow at twice the rate of non-STEM jobs and lead to 1.2 million unfilled jobs by 2018.
The project has earned praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Harvard University School of Education.
District 203 sixth-grade students will be required to take the first course in the sequence, called Design and Modeling.
Upon entering seventh grade, students will be given a choice to continue in the STEM curriculum, or concentrate on a foreign language.
If they choose technology, Automation and Robotics will be available for seventh-graders, while Energy and the Environment courses are scheduled for eight-graders.
Turano began by designing a locker shelf with different compartments for a student’s personal belongings.
“You create the idea and then you go and test it out,” he said.
Turano’s classmate, Jake Kaufman, echoed his feelings about the value of the curriculum.
“This opens the doors and makes you realize what is out there,” he said.
Because the program is new, judging how effective it is will likely not be determined for several years, but the early signs are positive, district officials said.
Bob Ross, assistant superintendent for Secondary Education in District 203, said that early data seemed to indicate that more students were opting for the tech program over language and that there hadn’t been a noticeable difference in participation rates between boys and girls.
Director of Instructional Technology John David Son acknowledged the difficulty of determining success in a new program.
“To me, success will be when they start getting interested and know what the field is,” he said.
In all three levels of the program, the new curriculum helps to satisfy Common Core State Standards in mathematical practice, English language arts and technological literacy.
Turano wanted School District 203 residents to know that the project can help students become aware of opportunities for hands-on instruction.
“It will definitely be a benefit,” he said.