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JCSU alliance completes minority STEM pipeline in Charlotte

For six weeks this summer, 80 adolescents and teens came to JCSU’s STEM Innovation Initiative program to build skills. The students came through IBTechReady and ENTICE programs at Ranson IB Middle School and West Charlotte High School, which is certified for the IB world diploma program. JCSU stepped in as the logical next step in the STEM education of these high-performing students of color.

IB, which stands for International Baccalaureate, is a global education outlook that considers what education looks like throughout the world and teaches students to compete with a global perspective. Ranson IB Middle School’s IBTechReady is a feeder program to West Charlotte High School’s ENTICE program. ENTICE, short for Engaging Neighborhoods with Technology, Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, is funded by a community tech grant from Google aimed at exposing rising ninth graders computer science as a potential career. 

Through JCSU's partnership with IBTechReady, students from Ranson got intensive, hands-on experience building a website for their school. They practiced digital design, programming 3-D printers, graphic arts principles and sketching.

Anthony Howard, JCSU’s K-12 STEM coordinator, was enthusiastic about student progress. He split the young students into two teams: one to map the skeleton and navigation of the website and the other team to create the visuals and artwork.

“Collaboration is one of our core values,” he said. “We used digital graphic pads so students could not only sketch out an item by hand, but have their drawings digitized onto the laptop where they were edited using Photoshop and other programs in Adobe Suite. They were definitely excited about what they learned.”

It’s the second year JCSU has worked with the groups, with a number of students matriculating from the Ranson to the West Charlotte program.

“This program is valuable because we have found within Charlotte’s Northwest Corridor that there’s a huge interest in STEM coordination,” said Shanniska Howard, IB Coordinator at Ranson. “But there’s an actual gap in enrichment activities geared toward STEM. So we started piloting the partnership with a small group of middle school students, and as our IB programs are connected we saw an opportunity for them to continue that learning into high school. JCSU is the third piece in this pipeline so now you’re talking about a continuation to college.”

The pipeline is working, said Cassandra Martin, who coordinates for ENTICE.

“Ranson is sending quality students to West Charlotte, which created a good problem because now we have to meet the needs of those top-notch learners. We’re getting rising freshmen with high school credit already. We can’t just give them general education classes. They need the opportunity to enroll in those advanced courses because they’ve already exceeded.”

The goal for both programs is to prepare students for college with a strong STEM base. Once the students reach high school, ENTICE helps them pass the AP computer science principles exam, so they can start earning college credit while in high school. JCSU provides exposure to HTML, CSS and Java Script, the three foundational program languages for web design. The university also trains them on Python programming language.

“There’s just one word really valuable to this program and it’s access,” said Martin. “When you think about the Northwest Corridor and the lack the students have in access to such programming, it is an opportunity. With JCSU, we are providing the access at zero cost, which solves a huge challenge in our Title 1 schools, where students have a low socioeconomic status.”

Howard agreed. “The great thing is they may be on the low end of the totem pole economically, but academically these are some of the brightest students in CMS. With this partnership, their future's can only grow brighter.”

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