JerseySTEM in 2022 – Needed More Than Ever
Perhaps JerseySTEM founder and Board member Nabil Mouline has worked to help the young women of New Jersey access STEM education because he is a father to girls who already have this exposure. Or perhaps it’s because he speaks multiple languages - having worked for more than three decades on four different continents; and he wants to help teach the whole world the “language” of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Whatever his personal reason, Nabil is completely clear about the JerseySTEM purpose: “JerseySTEM was started as a grassroots collective effort of citizens concerned about the disparity in access to STEM exposure for girls in the defining years of middle school,” he says. “That lack of exposure for girls in underserved communities leads to a lack of confidence, self esteem and interest in STEM topics.”
If you imagine the impact such a lack of confidence can have on the young women you know, you can easily understand why the volunteer team at JerseySTEM has worked to bring STEM exposure to middle school students since 2013. Now in our ninth year, we’re bouncing back after school closings and social distancing – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – have caused STEM exposure to erode even further.
A May 2021 report from Human Rights Watch posits that the pandemic’s academic disruptions have been especially taxing for children in lower-income families, where there is limited access to technology at home, or even a lack of Internet connectivity. A report from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights entitled Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students points out that, pre-pandemic, “Black and Latinx students nationwide continued to trail their white peers on the eighth grade Math assessment—by 32 points…Fourth-grade reading scores tell a similar story, with Black students lagging their white peers by 26 points (204 to 230), and Latinx students scoring lower than white students by 21 points (209 to 230).” The report goes on to expose the disproportionately dire consequences with which the pandemic has presented children of color:
Black children accounted for 20% of those who had lost a parent to COVID-19 through early 2021, despite making up only 14% of all children in the United States
Schools whose student body is mainly or exclusively students of color have been more likely to identify a major need for high-quality materials to support students’ social-emotional learning and mental health needs than predominantly white schools
As recently as March 2021, 58% of white students attending schools that serve fourth graders were enrolled in fulltime in-person instruction, compared to only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latinx students, and 18% of Asian students
With the education gap having been identified before the pandemic, and then exacerbated during it, experts expect disparities in academic achievement to climb in the coming years.
“Many under-resourced school districts need to focus their time covering the foundations of education (reading, writing, counting, social studies, etc.) and the welfare (nutrition, health and safety) of the students,” Nabil says. “This leaves them with little bandwidth to expand on what is not required by the NJ Department of Education.”
That’s where JerseySTEM comes in. In 2022, we are funding scholarships for college students who, in turn, volunteer as program instructors for middle school students – especially girls – in underserved communities in the state. The goal is to support both the college students in their pursuit of STEM higher education, and the elementary students who need a leg up in the sciences now more than ever.
“We are blessed to have a large number of like-minded volunteers and civically-engaged corporations interested in filling this gap,” explains Nabil.
“As JerseySTEM grows, we will be able to serve more kids in more communities and convert all that goodwill into teaching moments for those kids who need it. We are proud to be the catalysts, brokers and foot soldiers for that enterprise.”