LARGO — Schools throughout Pinellas County are stepping up their emphasis on science this school year, part of a larger effort to prepare even the youngest students for future careers.
Twelve elementary schools in Pinellas County, including Mildred Helms in Largo, began the academic year with new science laboratories, and more are adding after-school clubs that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM learning. Eventually the school district plans to have science labs in all 74 elementary schools.
School district officials this year unveiled a two-year plan to expand career training opportunities in all Pinellas schools, and new science labs, STEM clubs, and career and professional academies are a priority.
Such programs are appearing at all grade levels.
There will be more paid internships available for high school students, along with free dual-enrollment courses that count for credit at technical centers, said Dave Barnes, executive director of Career Technical and Adult Education for the school district. Last school year, less than 1 percent of Pinellas County high school graduates enrolled in a technical center, he said.
This year a pre-engineering program called Project Lead the Way will be launched at Azalea Middle and Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle in St. Petersburg. There also will be an increased focus on STEM and arts education at Largo Middle School.
All programs are designed with a specific “feeding pattern” in mind, Barnes said. A student studying a specific trade in middle school may continue their training in high school and ultimately attend Pinellas Technical Education Centers or St. Petersburg College.
Countryside High School in Clearwater added a biotech science lab this year, and Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg wants to expand its robotics program and is adding a science academy where students explore topics such as a sustainable food-production system in which plants are grown in water and feed on waste from fish and other aquatic animals.
Clearwater High will add an engineering academy, and East Lake High in Tarpon Springs is getting academies focusing on biomedical and cyber-security fields.
The school district also has plans to expand information and technology labs to more middle schools, allowing some students to enter high school and the workforce with industry certifications in Microsoft Word and Excel, and to be proficient in those skills by 10th grade. Students then can enter a new IT apprenticeship program at the Clearwater PTEC campus, the first such program in Florida.