$727,500 grant benefits Bethel schools

National program aims to strengthen math, science standards in high schools

Colonel Skye Duncan speaking at a recent event announcing the partnership between JBLM and Bethel.

The job of educators is to ensure all students are given the best opportunity to succeed in school and life. To that end, Bethel has partnered with Joint Base Lewis-McChord on a new program aimed at giving students the most rigorous and innovative math and science education possible.

The National Math and Science Initiative, or NMSI, is a Texas-based non-profit organization with the goal of advancing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education to ensure all students have the knowledge and skills to thrive in the global economy of the 21st century.

The two-year college readiness program, which is now being offered at all three of Bethel’s comprehensive high schools, has components for both teachers and students. A number of our middle and high school teachers traveled to Texas last summer to learn how to expand access to challenging coursework and improve student achievement through proven programs that consistently produce measurable and lasting results, according to NMSI.

The training and travel is being paid for by a $727,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

NMSI also will be assisting our elementary and middle school teachers. Through “Laying the Foundation” courses, teachers are given the opportunity to see how their teaching lays the foundation for math and science success in high school.

Spanaway Middle School ELA teacher Sharon Coward attended the summer training in Texas and is excited about what she learned.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to explore a well-researched and proven collection of resources that are standards-based, engaging, and relevant to middle school students with my colleagues. And I especially appreciated the balance of instruction and interactive, experiential activities,” Coward said.

As teachers take what they’ve learned and apply it in their classrooms, they will begin raising the academic bar and challenging students with more rigorous coursework. The program isn’t meant to be easy, but Jennifer Bethman, Bethel’s Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, believes its difficulty is one of the things that makes NMSI so successful.

“Kids need to learn how to struggle. If kids have never struggled before, they get frustrated and they give up,” Bethman said. “A lot of this work is about how a teacher can support our students through that struggle.”

Another aspect of NMSI that’s drawing raves from Bethel educators is its focus on equity.

“I like how NMSI focuses on the students furthest from opportunity,” said Graham-Kapowsin High School Principal Matt Yarkoski. “Throughout our partnership we are really thinking about ways we can impact students who are furthest from opportunities.”

As part of that equity focus, NMSI pays extra attention to the children of military service members. According to the organization, students of military families attend six to nine different school systems during their K-12 careers, making consistent access to high-quality education an ongoing concern.

In a recent ceremony to announce the partnership between JBLM and Bethel, Colonel Skye Duncan set out a goal to bring Bethel high schools to new academic heights.

“Your teachers’ commitment, your curriculum, and your academic rigor and research have taken you from the ordinary. We’ll take you now into the extraordinary,” Duncan said.

This partnership is only the latest piece of the district’s continued goal of giving every student an equitable chance to succeed in life. Beginning this school year, Bethel began covering the cost of Advanced Placement tests for all students. This new shift will ensure that the cost of the tests ($94 each) won’t discourage students from challenging themselves in high school.

The district has also partnered with Pierce College to offer college courses at both Spanaway Lake and Graham-Kapowsin high schools. The partnership gives Running Start students the opportunity to take college-level classes on campus during the day, so those without transportation can also benefit from this great opportunity.

Bethel is only the second school district in Washington state to have all of it’s comprehensive high schools working with NMSI.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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