Park and recreation agencies provide flexible learning environments for their students and are increasingly focused on coding, physical science, and innovative STEM programming not typically available to disadvantaged, rural, and low-income children during the school day or at home.
Currently 32 percent of park and recreation agencies around the country offer STEM programming, meaning 1 in 3 park and recreation agencies provide students with the chance to have hands-on experiences in the careers of tomorrow.
Park and recreation agencies can offer students the space to:
- Explore interests and improve competencies, such as team work, communication and problem-solving;
- Inspire technological curiosity, improve creativity, and promote deeper critical thinking; and
- Endow children with in-demand technological skills required for 21st century jobs.
NRPA is raising the profile of the great work park and recreation agencies are already doing to offer STEM programming to the communities they serve. Likewise, we are structuring our advocacy approach around leveraging federal resources and investments to support this work.
On July 30, 2018, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353) was signed into law, reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins Act). Out-of-school time programs, such as those offered by park and recreation agencies nationwide, are vital to preparing students for future employment. Specific provisions of the law that benefit local park and recreation agencies include:
- Allowance for community-based partners, defined as a “local public organization,” to become eligible entities to receive funding directly to support CTE programs locally.
- Prioritization of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning programs for underrepresented students, especially those encouraging career pathways for non-traditional careers, such as girls in computer science or coding camps for Latino or African-American students.
- Allowance for career development activities to start as early as fifth grade (previous limit was seventh grade).
Through hands-on activities, mentorships and internships, students have access to opportunities through their park and recreation agencies that will prepare and assist them in selecting a career path and setting goals for their future.
Congressional and Administrative Action around STEM
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What STEM Looks Like in Parks and Rec
Park and recreation departments across the country are integrating STEM into their parks and programs in innovative ways.
- Lacey, Washington not only offers courses in STEM, but also hosts an interactive STEM fair that includes local businesses discussing impacts, the military showing off STEM technology, and the city police showcasing how math solves crimes to over 3,000 participants. On top of the fair, Lacey offers classes in robotics, hardware and software engineering, and movie making with many of their classes reaching capacity.
- Prince William County (PWC), Virginia created a STEM program that has engaged 5,300 students in the past year in STEM science directly corresponding to the SOLs the students will take. Thinking of tomorrow and the mission to Mars, PWC offers a flight simulator, as well as science experiments to future astronauts. PWC also offers an Aviation Education — Test Pilot Academy that helps students better understand flight and construction.
- In addition to increasing fill rates of coding classes to 91 percent, the City of Appleton, Wisconsin and Backyard Hackers is tackling the issue of gender diversity in computer science by utilizing female-only courses and bringing in instructors to mentor and engage young coders.
- Integrating history and STEM, Gwinnett County, Georgia is allowing students to utilize artifacts and new technology to compare and contrast data. They are engaging students in agriculture, as well as mathematics by having them figure out the crop yield of the corn they just planted. Students also engage in the chemical analysis of run off.
STEM as an Equity Issue
How Baltimore Is Growing Its Tech Gurus From Scratch (Politico)
STEM as a Health and Wellness Issue
STEM and Wellness: A Powerful Equation for Equity (Alliance for a Healthier Generation)
STEM as a Conservation Issue
Make the Case for Environmental Education (NRPA Open Space Blog)