The Charter Blog

Teaching for the Stars

Teaching for the Stars

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More than 50 years ago, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to dive deep into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Initially inspired by the “space race” with the USSR (Modern-day Russia), STEM developed into a critical component of contemporary American education. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) stunned the world on July 16, 1969 when they sent the first manned mission to the moon. Four days later, Neil Armstrong took the famed “small step for man”. Suddenly, the world seemed small, but the possibilities endless. Countless new technological and medical advances developed thanks to this mission and the legacy lives on in STEM schools across the nation.

For many children, the hands-on nature of STEM fields allows for curious minds to blossom into extraordinary thinkers. The rapidly changing economy increasingly rewards expertise in these disciplines and the burgeoning technology sector in the U.S. underscores the need for educators to prepare students for future jobs and challenges. Exemplary STEM schools prepare students for success in a world permeated with science and technology. Incorporating STEM lessons across subjects helps capture the potential this school model offers.

Tucked away in northeast Philadelphia, the Math Science and Technology Community Charter School (MaST), leverages STEM to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Karen DelGuercio founded the school in 1999 in a former steel factory. Today, MaST offers a rigorous curriculum focusing on what they dub the “STREAM” fields. In addition to the traditional STEM fields, STREAM emphasizes robotics and arts. Ana Meyers, Executive Director of the PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools, told us that:

“MaST Community Charter School is an outstanding school that was recognized as a 2017 National Blue-Ribbon School. At MaST, students are pushing the limits of education and encouraged to work to their full capacity. Having been there more than once, I have seen first-hand how students are learning in new ways by focusing on embedding Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Math while utilizing technology to enhance the learning experience. Students at MaST are being prepared for new challenges that enhance their thinking.”

At MaST, students grapple with real-life challenges and hands-on experiments, both in the science labs as well as their outdoor classroom. Students use iPads, Apple TVs, 3D printers, robotics equipment, as well as professional grade software to immerse themselves in the technologies of the present and future. From the time students enter MaST, they interact with STREAM concepts through Lego Robotics, specifically computer programming through Lego’s “We Do” software and project building based on STEM principles. Once students enter middle school, they work with robots in a cutting-edge technology lab as they build foundational knowledge crucial to the mastery of concepts found in engineering and computer science. Even art classes embody the STEM spirit: lessons in web design, animation, and graphic design bring together technical and creative concepts in their professional production studio.


The CEO of MaST Community Charter School, John F. Swoyer III, recently highlighted their success:

“Our results have been staggering: over 12 million in college scholarships from our high school students, 100 percent graduation rate, 95.7 average attendance rate, and over 11,500 students applying to MaST last year. Several school officials, politicians, and global organizations have toured MaST to see innovative approaches. MaST’s success and demand even led the School Reform Commission to grant a replication charter, MaST II, which opened as a K-3 school in September of 2016. MaST III was just approved this past March and opens in 2019. By integrating the latest technology tools, creating innovative spaces for collaboration, listening to all stakeholders, and by delivering a rigorous and challenging curriculum, MaST provides students with a high-quality education and skillsets that will prepare them for the rest of their lives.”

MaST challenges preconceptions of what a public school looks like and pushes their students into a brighter future. Mathematics ties the STREAM curriculum together. Students move beyond the traditional lessons of algebra and geometry, exploring computer coding, engineering, and robotics as practical applications for mathematical principles. After all, it took brilliant mathematician Katherine Johnson to pave the way for that “small step for man” nearly fifty years ago. The next “giant leap for mankind” remains a mystery, but empowering STEM education offers us a chance to look beyond the stars. 

Jamison White is the Manager of Data and Research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

To learn more about MaST please visit: mastccs.org.

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