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Letter: Please Help Us Fund STEM Education at Smith STEM School

Smith STEM Students at the Board of Education budget hearing on March 29, 2023. Photo submitted by Heather Sansone

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The following letter to the West Hartford Board of Education has been shared with We-Ha.com for publication.

Dear West Hartford Board of Education,

As parents of a thriving first grader at Smith STEM School, we are writing to you in opposition of the proposed budget cut that would consolidate the STEM Specialist position and Science Lab teacher at Smith STEM School. The work these two teachers do is too important not to fully fund and an impossible ask for one person.

A merge of these two positions would not create the efficiency you are seeking but rather diminish the quality of the STEM experiences our Smith students receive on a daily basis and have detrimental long-term consequences for our most vulnerable students. In a school such as Smith STEM School with 55% of students categorized as “high needs,” it is our most disadvantaged students that are at risk of losing critical exposure to STEM experiences during their most formative years.

The Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collections continues to demonstrate that students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately excluded from learning opportunities in STEM. The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten stated in a press release that “Today, we are saying unequivocally to all students and educators that they belong in STEM and that they deserve to have rigorous and relevant educational experiences that inspire and empower them to reach their full potential as productive, contributing members of our nation’s workforce.” Calls for investments in STEM Education have come from the former Trump-Pence administration, the current Biden-Harris administration, and most recently from our own House Representative Jahana Hayes of Connecticut’s District 5 who sponsored a bipartisan bill to provide hands-on learning opportunities in STEM education by advocating for “effective, compelling, and engaging means for teaching and reinforcing fundamental STEM concepts,” as well as expanding and broadening the STEM workforce. This is absolutely currently happening at Smith and we do not want to lose it.

We come from immigrant families who came to this country from Cuba and Venezuela to offer us opportunities they did not have in their respective countries. When you grow up in an immigrant family, there is often a mentality of survival that tends to dim the child’s exposure to what is possible outside of their immediate reality. It is teachers, like Ms. Sharon Zajack, our STEM Specialist at Smith STEM School, that exposed us to what was possible outside of our narrow worldview. We owe our success, in large part, to the teachers who showed us a way forward to what would ultimately lead to us becoming the first in our families to graduate college, earn graduate degrees, and give back to society through our careers in medicine as a neurosurgeon and neonatal nurse practitioner.

Fifty-five percent of children at Smith STEM School are categorized as “high needs” meaning they are either eligible for free/reduced meals, are multilingual learners, or are students with disabilities. Smith STEM boasts incredible diversity both culturally and socioeconomically. From an equity lens, it is unacceptable to diminish the exposure these children receive to STEM education, perhaps the only glimpse of what’s possible outside of their immediate reality. It is not enough to have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mission and neglect to fund the very thing that has the potential to pull these children out of poverty and into world-changing careers. We need to put our money where our mouth is and fund STEM education to fulfill our equity mission.

Our world is facing seemingly insurmountable challenges in the next few decades – the rising cost of health care, climate change, gun violence, mental health, just to name a few. Challenges that our generation has not been bold enough to confront. Challenges that we are leaving our children as an inheritance. Let’s do the right thing and continue to fund STEM education. Our tax dollars are well spent in the hands of teachers expanding the worldview of our most vulnerable students.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Anthony Diaz, MD and Rubi Ruiz-Bruzos, APRN
West Hartford Residents and Proud Smith School Parents

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