Douglas County reported approximately 16% ethnic minorities in the last census. STEM School Highlands Ranch has about 43% ethnic minorities with many checking more than one box. Former Superintendent Thomas Tucker visited STEM several times and boldly stated that “All schools should look like STEM.” He was intrigued with the academic intensity of our students and their willingness to discuss at length the problem their team was solving. He often referred to STEM as the most diverse school in DCSD.
Why is STEM so successful in providing a welcoming environment for students of color? STEM stays focused on the stated belief in the “unlimited potential of every student.” Few schools approach learning with this assumption. Most schools have the goal of managing students with the expectation that teachers keep their students compliant, in their seats and quietly absorbing the day’s lesson. This is opposite of STEM. STEM encourages students to take an active role in their learning, engaging in significant problems starting at age five and progressing through astonishing challenges in high school.
Color of skin, innate ability, family income, language(s) spoken, and any other physical or societal traits are all included at STEM. Being an effective team member, creative problem solver, and finding joy in learning binds our students and faculty. STEM fosters a growth mindset. There are no limits and no gatekeeping to achievement. We believe in every STEM student to find their personal best.
STEM prepares our students to work in the global world of their future. Many STEM parents work in multinational groups spread over many time zones and see how their children are being prepared for this common workplace environment. STEM is rich in cultures and languages from all continents. This is a celebrated part of STEM’s welcoming culture that all belong. STEM is vibrant and the feeling is palpable as commented on by those who enter the school.
How can STEM be even more welcoming to new families and families of color and/or other cultures? Years ago, PTO started a buddy program matching new families with experienced families. New families have reported that it takes over one year to onramp at STEM due to the complexity of the school. Driveline, Canvas/Google Classroom, communication pathways, autonomy of students, etc., are daunting to new families especially to those from other cultures. Having a buddy to call made a huge difference. Creating these small and supportive cohorts might be worth the effort for future new families.
As a public school, STEM is extremely successful by any measure. It is welcoming to all and never goes outside of our lane treading on family values. Throughout the years, attempts have been made to influence curriculum and school culture to reflect a certain set of values, not understanding that narrowing what we offer unnecessarily causes some to feel less welcome. By keeping STEM free of politics and personal-family values, STEM keeps the welcome-mat aperture as wide as possible to be the most diverse and inclusive school in DCSD.
P.J. Eucker PhD