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This is the first batch of residents in Cal State Bakersfield's Growing Rural Opportunities STEM Residency Program, which received a $7.3 million federal grant earlier this school year. Photo courtesy of CSUB.

TBC

A Cal State Bakersfield program newly energized by federal funding will teach educators more engaging ways to instruct their students in science, technology, engineering and math.

The program called Growing Rural Opportunities STEM Residency Program (GRO STEM) is tasked with helping narrow an achievement gap between students in high-need rural districts and their peers in more urban areas. It is funded through a five-year, $7.3 million grant it received in September to recruit and train elementary teachers in rural Kern County districts.

CSUB announced receipt of the grant Tuesday and the university is already funneling its first residents into Kern County classrooms.

The residency program began as a pilot in January with seven aspiring teachers at Alicante Avenue School in Lamont.

The plan is to cycle 23 residents into the program during the summer, and 30 students each year for the next three.

GRO STEM -- which will places its residents in classrooms in Buttonwillow Union, Lamont and Semitropic Elementary school districts -- allows aspiring teachers to complete master's degrees in curriculum and instruction and earn multiple subject teaching credentials in 15 months.

Funding for the program will pay tuition and residence costs for 120 aspiring elementary teachers, according to CSUB.

Two students currently in the program, Frank Martinez and Krystal Angulo, celebrated the training they're receiving in a CSUB press release.

"It's a program that will transform us into the best versions of ourselves as teachers," Angulo said. "Things can only go up from here."

GRO STEM is part of a federal initiative to better prepare students to work in STEM fields, given an increasing demand in those areas.

U.S. Department of Education projections show there will be a 62 percent increase in biomedical engineering jobs from 2010 to 2020, for example.

But only 16 percent of high school seniors nationally are proficient in mathematics and interested in STEM careers.

The Obama administration launched its Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009 to change that. The initiative has goals to recruit and retain 100,000 STEM teachers in the next 10 years. Increasing the number of black and Hispanic workers in STEM fields is another key goal of the program.

Randy Schultz, grant administrator of GRO STEM, said kids in rural areas don't have enough opportunities to explore the many STEM careers they can pursue.

That's where GRO STEM comes in.

Aspiring teachers in the program will learn how to do computer coding, program robots to perform tasks and solve real life problems using physical science.

They will learn the concepts because they'll have to teach students to do them at a STEM summer camp, Schultz said.

They'll likely end up teaching these skills in classes outside the camp too.

The California State Board of Education adopted new science curriculum standards, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), for K-12 public schools in 2013.

The standards, which GRO STEM uses, require students to prove knowledge of scientific processes with performance and implementation of real-life models.

Schultz said better preparing teachers, and, in turn, students, has to start with getting kids excited about science early.

"Personally I feel if we're going to build a love for science, we have to start at kindergarten and work our way up," he said.

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