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New York City STEM Education Network Pursues Social Justice

July 11, 2019

Emma Banay

ExpandED Schools has had the honor of facilitating the New York City STEM Education Network for the past seven years. The Network serves as a catalyst for new ideas, partnerships and collaborative projects, which expand, enhance and sustain learning opportunities for all learners of all ages in NYC. While children are hopefully spending joyful hours imagining themselves as engineers and aquanauts this summer, the Network is using these quieter months to reflect on the state of STEM in New York City. Over the next three weeks, we will share updates, reflections, and lessons learned across three themes: STEM and social justice; STEM and work-based learning; and finally a digest of the working groups of the Network and how you can get involved if you are interested in the future of STEM education in New York City. Enjoy and please reach out to get involved.  Happy summer reading!

Here in New York City, the largest city in the U.S. and a place where segregation and staggering income inequality continue to disproportionately affect the city’s most underserved populations, the stakes for social-justice oriented STEM could not be higher. As a network of institutions, community-based organizations, governmental agencies, private companies, and nonprofits, the New York City STEM Education Network, led by its newly-formed Social Justice Working Group, is dedicated to acting together for coordinated impact.

At the September kick-off to the 2018-19 school year, The New York City STEM Education Network members proposed ideas for new working groups, pitching topics of interest to the rest of the membership and seeking investments of time, talent and expertise. Rather than having leaders choose and announce groups for the year, this start-up style pitch approach was designed to energize members, identify a new set of time-bounded, cross-sector goals, and build momentum through surfacing the interests, needs and desires of participants. The Social Justice Working Group emerged from the meeting, along with four other working groups: work-based learning, capacity-building, evaluation, and family engagement (read more about the other groups in future posts in this series). Data from the beginning-of-year Network survey underscored the overwhelming support to pursue social justice in STEM; 77% of the Network’s membership indicated interest in bringing a social justice framework to STEM programs.

After the formation of the Working Group, the participating members facilitated a Network-wide meeting in March, from which a few key themes emerged.  At its core, the group sought to surface a common conception of social justice and its intersection with STEM, settling on the understanding that we must recognize historic injustices that have created systematic barriers to access in the STEM fields across identities, in particular racial and gender-based, and then work together to ensure that STEM education experiences, opportunities, and resources are provided to and accessed by those same communities.  To that end, the working group has identified a few areas for immediate action.  First, recognizing that culturally responsive pedagogy is a critically important element of this work, and that teachers need to support all students in accessing STEM pathways by directly acknowledging the historic barriers to access to high-quality STEM learning.  Second, that educators and practitioners need support in uncovering and unlearning unconscious bias, and the resources that can help them do better.  Finally, family representation and participation in the STEM Network is crucial.

The Working Group members have stepped up to lead the charge in each of these areas, proposing new professional learning opportunities, the creation of new resources, and conducting new outreach to broaden participation in the Network itself. The organizations advancing this necessary work are the American Museum of Natural History, the Beam Center, Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM), Cooper Union STEM Outreach Program, DIVAS for Social Justice, ExpandED Schools, FHI 360, Global Kids, the New York Academy of Sciences, the New York City Departments of Design and Construction and Education, New York on Tech, the Network for Youth Success, Seachange Collective, STEMteachersNYC, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Those interested in getting involved should be in touch with Working Group co-chairs Brian Cohen (Beam Center, [email protected]) and Jennifer Negron (The Pinkerton Foundation, [email protected]).