The Ganado Unified School District, located in the Navajo Nation Tribe in Apache County in the northeastern corner of Arizona, comprises three schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade (primary [pre-K through second grade and intermediate school [third through fifth grade], middle school [sixth through eighth grade], and high school [ninth through twelfth grades] ). Further, it is the only k-12 district on the Navajo nation that offers a Project Lead The Way (PLTW – STEM) experience for k-12 students.
Ganado Middle School (GMS) gives students the opportunity to experience a world-class science and math experience that will carry them into the global economy. Along with PLTW, GMS also offers a compliment of college preparatory classes in math and science classes on the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade levels. GMS is a school that encourages critical thinking among our students and staff. The GMS staff is continually using innovative ideas to challenge our students to become the thinkers of the new world. An incredible 62% of our students involve themselves with extra-curricular activities at GMS. This speaks volumes to our mission of reinforcing positive characteristics and staying active.
According to the January 2022 Arizona School Personnel Administration, 78.7% of teacher positions in Arizona either remain vacant or were filled by individuals not meeting teacher requirements. This situation is exacerbated at the Ganado Middle School because most teachers are not Arizona residents and instead are on three-year assignments – so students miss establishing long-term relationships and support that teachers typically provide.
The Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Foundation (SARSEF) aims to bring equitable STEM education to all, specifically community populations who are underserved but incredibly capable and deserving. SARSEF focuses on these issues as there are systems of power in place that have historically created barriers for equitable STEM education and career opportunities. Every child deserves opportunities. Despite the importance of STEM education, by fourth grade, one in three children have decided that science isn’t for them, by eighth grade, it’s half of all students. The number rises even more significantly for marginalized community members. Despite these numbers, 80% of all jobs in the near future will require math and science skills. SARSEF is trying to disrupt this pattern and help shape students’ STEM identity and confidence early and often.
Another critical issue for SARSEF is the STEM Career Pipeline and workforce development. Not every student may find themselves as a career scientist or engineer but providing a pathway to a higher paid career in STEM fields is critical. These fast-approaching careers in STEM require critical thinking and problem-solving skills developed through STEM learning. Talent is equally distributed, but opportunities are not. Every student may not attend a university, but they should be able to choose their own path and not be limited by lack of opportunity or exposure to college-level work.
Through SARSEF’s education programing and STEM competitions, students are exposed to a diverse number of STEM career experiences, opportunities, and scholarships. Location and access are major barriers to STEM education opportunities. SARSEF has evolved to learn with communities across Southern Arizona and brings education to the communities with the greatest barriers. One such community which faces these barriers is our Native American populations. Less than 1% of STEM professionals in the United States are Native American. It is imperative that we meet the demand our Indigenous populations deserve.
The fields of STEM need diversity and to reflect the world in which we actually live. We need all of humanity, their creativity, and solutions. Individuals from gap resourced communities are naturally creative and solution oriented out of life circumstance – that is where critical thinking and resourceful problem solving comes from, and our world needs it.