After all, using crime investigation techniques to study cancer is way more fun than sitting through or delivering a lecture. And getting your child on track to a satisfying, well-paying job is a dream come true.
PLTW has another strong group of fans: business people. They see it as a source of future workers.
“It makes sense to grow our own, rather than import them,” said Shelly O’Quinn, director of education and workforce development for Greater Spokane Incorporated, a 1,300-member business organization. “There’s the cost factor, plus you already have people committed to your community.”
Health care represents more than 20 percent of the regional economy, O’Quinn noted, and that doesn’t count the growing biomedical industry. Health sciences is the focus of Washington State University Spokane, one of only two places in the western United States where teachers can get training in the PLTW biomedical sciences curriculum.
The Mead School District north of Spokane has decided the investment is a good one. After PTLW’s “Gateway to Technology” courses proved wildly popular with middle school students and parents, Mead added the high school biomedical sciences program as an option.
It was a hit. As one student put it, “We get to actually do stuff in class,” including investigating a mysterious death. (See “Hands-on science inspires students and teachers.” )
When several hundred students signed up for the course, Mead officials asked the WSU College of Education in Spokane to become a PTLW affiliate so it could provide nearby teacher training. The answer from Joan Kingrey, the college’s Spokane academic director, was an enthusiastic “yes.”
“They weren’t just interested for themselves,” Kingrey said of Mead officials. “They hoped if we were successful, other school districts would adopt Project Lead the Way.”
This summer, WSU held two sessions of the PTLW Core Training Institute. Forty teachers took part, representing 11 Washington school districts and others as far away as Florida and Maryland.
The teachers learned to dissect sheep hearts, analyze DNA for disease risk and other scientific techniques. The institute qualified them to teach a biomedical course to high school freshmen. Those students will have the chance to take three more biomed courses before graduation.
A three-way win for businesses
PTLW is likely to increase the pool of local applicants for the WSU College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy and WWAMI, the five-state medical school consortium that’s expanding on the Spokane campus. WWAMI’s mission of bringing more doctors to small Northwest communities is one reason that Kingrey hopes more rural schools are able to invest in Project Lead the Way.
Wendy Whitmer agrees. She is regional science coordinator for the Northeast Washington Educational Service School District. She took the PTLW training at WSU so she could understand the curriculum.
“So many of our rural schools just don’t have the capacity to offer these programs because of their size, lack of funding, facilities,” Whitmer said.
Given cutbacks in state funding, WSU officials said, private support for PTLW is crucial for many schools. Some business sponsors are stepping up to help.
Spokane Teachers Credit Union has committed $30,000 toward the renovation of teacher training laboratory space on the WSU Spokane campus. Jubilant Hollister-Stier Laboratories will equip a laboratory at Rogers High School. It also will support PLTW training for a Rogers teacher each of the next four years, so the biomedical sciences curriculum can be fully implemented there.
The company, based within two miles of Rogers, employees 500 workers, many of whom are hired locally and have science degrees. Kirk Wood-Gaines, vice president of human resources and communications, described the company’s support of PTLW as a three-way win.
“We’re able to support education, give back to the community, and benefit Jubilant Hollister-Stier,” he said.
Businesses recognize it’s important to have workers at all levels – those who can work immediately after graduation from high school, from two-year programs and university programs, Kingrey said. She noted that the Spokane Community Colleges have 50 allied health care programs.
“They’re as interested as we are in getting students excited about science,” she said.