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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Dr. Michael Dunn, Brad Van Dyne and Lorri Reilly: Creating access and opportunity through STEM education

Brad Van Dyne and Lorri Reilly

A high-quality STEM education is essential for every student in our region. By the year 2030, it is estimated that more than 70 percent of all Washington jobs will require education beyond high school, and of those jobs, more than 67 percent will require STEM skills. The knowledge, skills and habits that science, technology, engineering and math provide help create the foundation for success in a student’s life and career.

But how do we ensure that every student has the access and opportunity to get that high-quality STEM education? School districts across our region are dedicated to their communities and their students. Yet every community has different needs and different challenges. There is no cookie-cutter solution for ensuring every school, and every student, has what they need to succeed.

In order to attend to the wide variety of needs that exist across our region, actionable data, community input, buy-in from teachers and district leaders, a plan of action, and the will to move those plans forward is needed. A systems approach is needed so that no student or school is left out.

Fortunately, both in our region and across the state, we have a passionate group of education leaders dedicated to solving these challenges. LASER (Leadership Assistance for Science Education Reform), Educational Service Districts (ESDs) and STEM Networks are working side-by-side to make sure our teachers, principals, and communities are equipped to deliver an impactful STEM education for every student, but especially those that are farthest from opportunity.

For example, it’s no secret that rural, remote schools don’t have all of the tools and resources they need. Whether that includes access to materials for their students, consistent exposure to STEM, or opportunities for teacher professional development, rural schools have to deal with these challenges daily. That’s where LASER comes in. In working with their statewide counterparts, the Spokane-based Northeast LASER Alliance has been working with schools throughout our region to provide a variety of supports for our more rural schools.

For teachers and principals in remote areas, traveling to a more metropolitan area to receive professional development is often a nonstarter. Many of these dedicated educators simply can’t be away the entire day; the needs in their schools don’t allow it.

But LASER is working to assure those barriers that once stood in the way are broken down. If a teacher can’t travel, LASER and their partners will go to them. If principals and educators across a school district need to come together, LASER will help make that happen. If teachers want help spreading best practices to their colleagues in their school or across their district, LASER helps facilitate those practices. When school leaders want to make sure they’re centering equity in their approach to STEM, LASER helps provide the roadmap and the assistance to get there. LASER also provides an online toolkit filled with resources that any teacher from across the state can access remotely.

In one such case, in the Loon Lake School District, the LASER team has worked with teachers to foster a culture of learning among their teachers as they work to capture the enthusiasm of their students and pair it with the rigor and education necessary to thrive in Washington’s 21st century economy. More and more teachers are joining the conversation and diving deep into the ways they can bring rich, integrated STEM experiences for their students, so that they have a more substantive understanding of what it means to be a STEM professional. The Northeast LASER Alliance and the Southwest LASER Alliance partnered to create a unique professional development experience that brought together principals and educators across regions to focus on increasing equity through implementation of meaningful science standards at the elementary level. While together, these teacher-principal teams were able to leverage their in-school partnerships and LASER support to share how they tackle their common challenges in serving students in hard-to-reach geographies.

When it comes to developing a systems solution to better serve our students, while taking the unique needs of a wide range of school districts into account, LASER is providing some of the most essential supports our schools need. We encourage school districts across our region to work with LASER so that every student, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or ZIP code, can thrive.

Dr. Michael Dunn is superintendent of NorthEast Washington Educational Service District 101. Brad Van Dyne is superintendent/principal of Loon Lake Schools. Lorri Reilly is director of Teaching and Learning with the East Valley School District.