With their highly disciplined environments and Church teaching that fully embraces modern science, Florida’s Catholic high schools seem to have tremendous potential to lead the state in preparing students for college majors in STEM fields like engineering and the computing, mathematical and physical sciences that provide the best prospects for financial stability in the 21st century economy.
An Orlando Sentinel article written in 2011 by reporter Leslie Postal reported on the hands-on studio-style science instruction taking place at Orlando’s Bishop Moore Catholic High School. The school’s leadership and teachers had seen that such a model was (and still is) being used to teach physics at MIT and decided that was the best way to prepare students for college majors in engineering, physics and related fields. And of course, they were right.
Unfortunately, most Catholic high school graduates who arrive in my introductory physics classroom in the fall are not properly prepared for the majors in engineering, physical science, mathematics or computing they have chosen. The Catholic high school in Tallahassee does not offer a physics class at all.
Sometimes these Catholic school graduates are able to persevere and succeed because of their strength of character. But I’d certainly be happier if they arrived in my classroom with strengths in both character and academic background. My Catholic high school graduates generally agree with that sentiment.
Florida’s Catholic high schools have a great responsibility to prepare their students properly for the most financially robust 21st century careers in part because of the large number of low income students that attend Catholic schools on Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. This year (according to redefinedonline) of the 85,784 students attending Catholic schools, 18,428 (or 21.5%) are being supported with these state scholarships. Preparing students for the rigors of college majors like mechanical engineering is even more important for students from disadvantaged backgrounds than it is for students from affluent families because low income students have no family safety net to fall back on if their career plans fall through.
This week is Catholic Schools Week. It would be a great time for the state’s Catholic high schools to make a commitment to open the doors of opportunity for their students to careers in engineering, the mathematical and physical sciences and computing by properly preparing their students for college majors in these fields.