150 Bay County middle school students were inducted into the Future Physicists of Florida. So what comes next?

Parents who attended Tuesday’s Bay County Future Physicists of Florida induction ceremony at Florida State University’s Panama City Campus with their children asked me one question over and over again:  What’s next?

The answer to that question is this:  Bay County’s district high schools have a team of outstanding physics teachers, and they have tickets to a lifetime of opportunity for your kids.

FSU has been working closely with physics teachers Nancy Browne at Bay High School, Rachel Morris at Rutherford, and Sean O’Donnell and Lance King at Mosley to expand and improve the opportunities to learn physics and prepare for careers in engineering, science, computing and health professions.  Browne, Morris and O’Donnell spent six consecutive Wednesday evenings this summer (at six hours per session) working with FSU faculty members to both deepen their understanding of electricity and magnetism and to learn to engage their students in learning this challenging subject.

FSU’s President John Thrasher proved he is all in for improving access to STEM careers for Bay County students by injecting $40,000 worth of physics laboratory equipment into Bay, Mosley and Rutherford High Schools to support the teachers’ efforts to improve student learning opportunities.  That equipment is now in place and is ready for use.

But Tuesday’s ceremony carried implicit challenges for both the Bay County school district and the parents of the students who were honored.

Bay District Schools must make sure that the students honored Tuesday as well as their classmates have access to the high quality courses in physics, chemistry, precalculus and calculus that high school students must take to prepare for careers in engineering, science and health professions.  And then the district’s counselors and teachers must steer students into those courses.  That is not an easy task because those courses are among the most challenging that high schools offer.

The good news is that many of Bay County’s teachers and counselors have taken on that challenge, and the result is that the district’s enrollment rates in those courses, which historically have been well below Florida’s averages, have started to improve.  For example, about twice as many Bay County high school students are taking physics this fall as did last year.

As for the parents, who are their children’s primary educators:  Parents have to understand how important it is to persevere in upper level math and science courses, even when they seem difficult and the route to a good grade seems cloudy.  Parents who avoided these courses themselves in high school because of a lack of confidence in their own abilities have to encourage their children to take them, anyway.  That is a tall order.

Because of its teachers, counselors, administrators and parents, the Bay District Schools seem poised to open a new world of opportunity for its students.  Tuesday’s induction ceremony was a call to take on the challenges that lie ahead with enthusiasm and energy.

Eryn Dion of the Panama City News-Herald posted some video from the ceremony here.

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Nancy Browne (Bay HS), Rachel Morris (Rutherford) and Sean O’Donnell (Mosley) working on a circuit lab during a Wednesday evening workshop this summer

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