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Math, science programs important for schools

Monday, August 01, 2011

I often request that organizations with whom we work on behalf of Army families provide us with articles about their programs and new initiatives.

The following article, written by Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative and a former assistant secretary of education, is an example of one of these great programs.

Hopefully it will encourage others to advocate bringing the National Math and Science Initiative to their schools.

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Ethan Nakamura knew what his father would ask first when he called home from Iraq: "My Dad would always ask, ‘How are you doing in school?’ And I would tell him, ‘I am doing great. You don’t need to worry about me.’"

Ethan is one of the first participants in the Initiative for Military Families, a pace-setting new program to provide college-level math and science courses for students from military families. Ethan is taking pre-AP calculus and AP English at Hopkinsville High School near Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

He hopes doing well in the AP classes will boost his chances of going on to college and then medical school. His dream is to go into the military after medical school and then open his own medical practice.

When he was younger, his stepfather was often deployed overseas for two-year stretches. "It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone you love, but you have to get used to it. My dad would call when he could," he remembers, adding quickly, "it’s great when he’s back, because then the family feels complete."

Ethan works after school at the local Sonic restaurant to help with family expenses and says being from a military family has helped him become more mature. "I see a lot of things as an adult already," he said. "The real world can be harsh and you have to be ready for it. I think I am ready because I have had a lot of responsibility as a kid."

To make sure students like Ethan get the skills they need to follow their dreams, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) launched the first phase of the Initiative for Military Families (IMF) this school year.

Working in partnership with the Military Child Education Coalition and the Military Impacted Schools Association, NMSI’s goal is to provide a robust Advanced Placement program in math, science and English for high schools serving military bases in the U.S.

Thanks to generous support from Lockheed Martin Corporation, the program was launched in fall 2010 in two high schools near Fort Hood in Texas and two high schools near Fort Campbell.

By this spring, the number of schools had been multiplied seven times and the NMSI program was saluted in two White House events. In April, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden joined the president at the White House to launch their initiative to rally public and private support for America’s military families called, "Joining Forces."

As part of that nationwide initiative, Mrs. Obama announced the expansion of NMSI’s Initiative for Military Families (IMF) program. In the fall of 2011, the IMF program will be enlarged from four schools to 32 schools with the help of BAE Systems, Boeing, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), ExxonMobil, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Northrop Grumman and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), with additional support from Modern Technology Solutions Inc., the Colorado Legacy Foundation and O’Donnell Foundation. The expansion will impact 40,000 students in its first year.

In announcing the new outreach before an audience that included military spouses and leaders from all branches of military service, President Obama said, "We’re here today because these Americans in uniform have never served alone.  Not at Lexington and Concord, not in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

"Behind every American in uniform stands a wife or husband; a mother, a father; a son or daughter; a sister or brother. These families – these remarkable families – are the force behind the force."

On April 14, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden also made a special visit to Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Colorado, one of the schools that will be implementing NMSI’s education program this fall.

Mrs. Obama commended the Americans across the country that are stepping up to provide help for military families and singled out NMSI’s Initiative for Military Families.

She told a jam-packed gymnasium full of students and parents, "NMSI is working with the Department of Defense and the private sector to expand this program to you. We’re thrilled about this effort and thrilled about how this effort is going to affect students like you...an education in math and science can put you on the path to success in any field you can imagine."

The NMSI initiative is already having an impact. In the first year, the number of students enrolled in math, science and English AP courses has been boosted 64 percent.

NMSI’s goal is to help more students like Ethan achieve their dreams – students like Eduardo Gonzalez, who’s taking AP calculus this year at Harker Heights High School near Fort Hood in Texas. Eduardo’s goal is to become a civil engineer or a landscape architect.

He’s the president of the school’s ROTC unit and is proud to be part of a military family, although it has not been without sacrifice. When he was in the fifth grade, both of his parents were sent overseas as active duty Army personnel. As his parents were assigned to base after base, Eduardo attended three to four different elementary schools and two middle schools.

His parents opted to stay at Fort Hood so he could complete his studies at the same high school, even though that meant they both were deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

When they both were gone at the same time, he was looked after by a guardian who happened to be a math teacher. "My mom always taught me to move on and do my best, do what she would want me to do if something happened. So I was prepared for the worst or prepared for anything that could happen," he says. "I’ve tried to achieve what they would want me to do."

Deandra Hawkins’ stepfather is currently stationed with the Army in Korea, while she attends school in Kentucky near Fort Campbell. "It’s us he always thinks about first," she says. "He keeps in touch by Skype and texting whenever he gets a chance. We know how his life is doing 24/7. We do miss him, but we’re always texting so we feel he’s there if we need him."

She describes herself as both a "people person" and a writer – she’s worked her way up from "fry girl" to the youngest manager at the local McDonald’s restaurant and has had some of her poetry published. A senior this year at Hopkinsville High School, Deandra has been accepted at the University of Kentucky and hopes her AP classes will give her a head start.

She says, "I’d love to become a teacher and help someone accomplish things with their life, help them realize that they are a lot more than they thought they were."

Ethan, Eduardo and Deandra are examples of students from military families. Military kids deserve our strong support to ensure they have the opportunities to receive the education they deserve. Almost two million children in the U.S. have a parent serving in the military. Some 220,000 of these children have a parent currently deployed.

With additional funding, NMSI hopes to expand the IMF up to 100 public high schools on or near military bases. If enough other corporations and foundations step up to help our military families in this personal way, many more young people from military families will have a better chance of attending college and succeeding.

NMSI has the kind of track record that’s needed to make the IMF a win-win for students and the U.S. Public schools that have participated in NMSI’s program for the last two years showed a 97.7 percent increase in exams passed in AP math, science, and English, which is seven times the national average.

Why is getting more students into NMSI’s AP Training and Incentive Program so important?

They will also be more college ready. Achieving a passing grade on the national AP exams qualifies students for college credit and significantly increases their chances for success in college. Experience has shown that even students who do not receive a passing score benefit from the exposure to college-level rigor.

They will have more continuity of study because the AP curriculum is standardized; the quality of the coursework is uniform from district to district, state to state.

They will have developed the skills for their futures. Fifty percent of the high-paying jobs in the future will require more math and science skills. Students from military families should not be left out.

NMSI was given the mandate by the White House to provide greater educational continuity and opportunity for students from military families on Jan. 24, 2011 when President Obama announced his "Educate to Innovate" campaign would broaden its focus to provide greater support for military children. The president asked NMSI to help lead that effort.

"I want every service member who’s deployed to know that when you’re over there taking care of the country that you love, your country is back here taking care of the families that you love. … I want every military kid to know that we’re going to be there for you, too, to help you grow and to live your dreams," President Obama said while announcing the new commitment to military families.

We understand at NMSI that the men and women in today’s military want their children to have the best education possible. They know that technology is important because their lives depend on it. They know that math and science are the keys to success in today’s global economy – as well as in military careers.

For more information, go to www.nationalmathandscience.org.