Early College STEM at CPS

It’s time for a PTA Advisory Council Committee update. Our April meeting was canceled, so we reconvened in May to learn about Office of Teaching and Learning procurement processes and the early college STEM program at CPS, and ignore the elephant in the room that is CPS School Actions and closures.

The procurement process addled my brain a bit, but I think the gist of our speaker’s talk was that CPS procurement has revised its vendor process to include better pricing, create a “marketplace” of vendor pricing, revise the RFP/bid process, and expand the scope of work covered by CPS’s purchasing agreements. For schools and school-based organizations, talk to your school’s business manager to learn more about leveraging the District’s purchasing power.

The bulk of our meeting was spent listening to Veenu Verma, director of Early College and Career Education, of the CPS Office of Pathways to College and Career. Ms. Verma was there to go over the CPS’s STEM high school program with us. I have to say that it’s such a treat to meet CPS leaders in this format. I’ve yet to meet a visitor to our meetings who is at all hostile to our group. It might be a function of both sides coming to the meeting with generally positive attitudes and open minds.

As we know, CPS tends to have a lot of new initiatives that don’t always make the cut from year to year. I’m hopeful that is not the case with the early college STEM schools, with their gradual enrollment strategy. Ms. Verma told us that the STEM schools were based on a model in NY that combines a partnership with CUNY and IBM. She also spoke a bit about the development process for the initiative, which involved speaking with employers and technical companies about the kinds of skills they need, whether technical or soft in nature.

There are five STEM high schools in CPS under this initiative. There is one in each high school network, and each has a neighborhood boundary, corporate partner, and college/university partner. The schools are Lakeview, Sarah Goode, Corliss, Clark, and CVCA. The Lakeview and CVCA programs are tracks within the schools rather than wall-to-wall STEM programs. Lakeview’s corporate partner is Microsoft and it’s university-level partner is DePaul. Goode’s partners are IBM and Daley City College. Corliss’s are Verizon and Olive Harvey. Clark’s are Cisco and Malcolm X. And CVCA’s are Motorola and also Olive Harvey. Clark is currently a magnet school as well, but Ms. Verma expects that to change in the next admission cycle.

She shared that the STEM schools were designed to offer up to a 6-year course of study, potentially bridging high school with the first two years of college. In the ideal case, the most motivated STEM students can earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree within four years. However, some students may end up with only a high school diploma and others may gain some college credit or certifications. Students who achieve City College-ready scores of 21 on the ACT by their junior years will be on track to take college-level courses in one of two ways:

  • Dual-credit classes via Advanced Placement courses taught within the high school
  • Dual-enrollment classes via attending classes on the nearby college campus

She noted that dual-enrollment classes are eligible for IAI-transferrable credits, which allow them to “count” at any Illinois community college or state university. She also said that each college uses a different approach in evaluating high school transfer credits, such as AP, IB, etc., which has made it difficult to codify the process at the high school level.

STEM students are also eligible to take certifications in three main areas: database and cloud management; network engineering and security; and web development and programming. Of interest is that “pre-engineering” high schools are managed out of the Career and Technical Education office.

Ms. Verma’s office designed the program to “scaffold,” so that each year’s experiences can be built upon the previous ones, culminating with apprenticeships and internships at junior and senior years. Freshmen community experiences include increasing awareness, mentoring, site visits, and guest speakers. Next year, sophomores at all the schools will start project-based lessons and service learning. Both the corporate and the university partnerships are important components of the programs, with the hope of creating long-term mentoring relationships between students and corporate employee-volunteers. Cisco employees, for example, are building electronic sailboats with Clark students, while IBM employees offer weekly mentoring to Goode freshmen.

At the end of the meeting, after both speakers had completed their presentations, we spoke briefly as a group about school actions. Our moderator shared that members of the CACs in Humboldt Park and Bronzeville are meeting with individual Board of Education members to lobby their causes as part of the BoE’s due-diligence process before the May meeting.

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One thought on “Early College STEM at CPS

  1. I think early college is very exciting. It's interesting how students progress at different rates, so this is a great alternative for students who are gifted and looking for a challenge. Simon's Rock at Bard College offers both BA and AA degrees to its graduates. My daughter going there next year and is really excited about it.

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