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Harford County Public Schools are on a mission to spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics starting with kindergartners and carrying through seniors in high school.

STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs are a national concern and a local issue with BRAC coming to fruition, which will involve an influx of technical jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Superintendent Robert Tomback attended Harford Community College’s Board of Trustees meeting March 9 to discuss the public school system’s plans for STEM programs.

“We are moving in a direction to combine science, technology and math under the banner of engineering,” Tomback said. “There is a movement there, and we want to be in front of this.”

Tomback’s meeting with the board of trustees was crucial, as he noted 60 percent of Harford’s public school graduates attend HCC. Tomback also meets quarterly with HCC President Jim LaCalle.

Harford County Public Schools is conducting an analysis of its current STEM education and creating a five-year STEM Education Roadmap, which will be funded by a $100,000 grant from the Maryland State Department of Education.

“This STEM education strategic planning process will involve industry, local, state and federal government representatives,” Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

The process calls for the formation of three groups, and each will be chartered to address a set of questions that will allow HCPS to assess its current programs and plan for the future.

The three groups include:

o a STEM Advisory Board, which will include senior leaders from government, industry, and the community who are external to HCPS;

o a STEM Steering Committee, which will include supervisors and directors from inside HCPS who will be impacted by the STEM Education Roadmap; and,

o A Strategic Planning Work Group, which will include both classroom teachers and administrators, as well as industry and government members.

“We are developing a relation with [Aberdeen Proving Ground] in order for us to know what we are going to prepare our students for and to know what is going on at APG,” Tomback said.

“It’s clear to us that this is the direction in which Harford County is moving,” he added.

HCC is also making way for STEM programs and initiatives with the renovation and expansion of Aberdeen Hall that was completed in November.

The college also added new STEM programs this year in biotechnology and electrical engineering. STEM scholarships are also available at HCC.

Joint enrollment

Tomback also discussed a transition into a system where students are spending two years at HCPS, two years dually enrolled at HCPS and HCC, and then two years at HCC to earn an associate degree.

“This is a trend that is growing,” Tomback said. “But, I wouldn’t say it’s the norm.”

Tomback said there are 92 high school students in Harford County who are enrolled for early admissions at HCC or are already dually enrolled at HCPS and HCC.

Remedial instruction

Remedial instruction for HCPS students when they reach HCC was also addressed by Tomback.

“Higher education is essential and we need to know how well our program is preparing our students for you [at HCC,]” Tomback said, adding that the school system has some numbers available, but they are not as comprehensive as he would like.

Tomback said there is the possibility of administering an ACCUPLACER test to students in 11th grade to evaluate their skills in core subjects.

With the test, Tomback said student schedules can be adjusted their senior year to address some remediation before the students get to HCC.

Tomback said there are issues with administering the ACCUPLACER test in 11th grade.

In conjunction with remediation, Tomback said the school system is working toward tracking its students from kindergarten through high school, and then from college to the work force.

Federal mandates

Partaking in longitudinal data is part of the federal educational grant program known as Race to the Top.

The program, which outlines certain conditions states have to agree to, could secure the county up to $2.4 million in funding for one-time spending.

Race to the Top, according to Tomback, is the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act; however, Tomback said the act is being referred to under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act enacted by Congress in 1965.

With Race to the Top, Tomback said the kindergarten through 12th grade world is moving toward common core standards, which would create a national curriculum.

“We need to make sure we speak the same language from school system to school system and from state to state,” he said. “We need to, for example, agree across the board what Algebra 1 is. What some folks have realized is that Algebra 1 in Harford County is different from other counties, and I think we are beginning to recognize there are issues with that.”

Tomback said the only national curriculum is the Advance Placement courses, which also have a national test.

Part of the common core standard process will be determining how the curriculum connects to HCC, he said.

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