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CWU addresses shortage of STEM teachers throughout Washington

Washington has been ranked third in the country for job creation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, the Evergreen State was also rated near the bottom in the number of students pursuing higher education.


Central Washington University is bridging the gap by developing needed teachers through its Teach STEM program, the only UTeach national STEM teacher preparation program in the Pacific Northwest. The collaboration between the sciences and education helps students get certified to teach in science and math fields.

“You get to work with students immediately in the field, you actually teach science and math lessons and integrated STEM lessons in the field. The point of that is that you really get to try out teaching and see if this is a good career for you. So, my advice to students is to go and take that first class.” 


The two-year program will be offered for the first time this fall at the CWU-Des Moines University Center. It’s been offered for the past two years on the Ellensburg campus.


“We’ve been successful in that we are on track to double the number of graduates from Central in science and math education,” says Jennifer Dechaine-Berkas, who is co-director of CWU’s Teach STEM program and serves on the biology and science education faculty. “There is no similar program in the Puget Sound Area, so we decided to expand the program and offer it at CWU-Des Moines.”


Those additional teachers are needed as there has been a STEM teacher shortage in Washington for a quarter of a century.


“There’s one, big hole in the STEM pipeline and that’s training more strong STEM teachers to go into the field,” Dechaine-Berkas notes. “The reason we implemented this program in the first place was, in part, to start to address that need.”


While CWU has a long establish track-record of training a high-quality and high-quantity of teachers, Teach STEM is somewhat atypical.

“We have lots of teacher education programs and we have been doing this for over 126 years now. But what’s new and novel about this program is that it’s co-directed between sciences and education.”


Being directed by both the sciences and education has allowed for some courses on the Ellensburg campus to be co-taught by faculty from different disciplines.


“At CWU-Des Moines we will have courses taught strictly by education faculty and science faculty, who will collaborate outside of the classroom,” explained Ian Loverro, co-director, and the chair of Curriculum, Supervision, and Educational Leadership at CWU. “This type of collaboration allows the courses fit together very well. The faculty like the cohesiveness of the program collegiality of working together toward a similar goal.”


Darin Knapp, a master teacher at CWU-Des Moines, will oversee the new program, which is designed specifically to develop teachers for the fourth through ninth grades. Knapp taught math and science in schools in Seattle for 16 years.

“I think we need more teachers who are excited about teaching math and science—especially women, women of color, especially young people who can see that math and science are important for our future, people that want to get in the classroom, that want to be creative and teach students how to problem solve, especially in those middle grades.”


“Those middle grades are such a critical time for students to get pulled in to math and science and see themselves at mathematicians and scientists,” Knapp says. “Those teachers [produced at CWU-Des Moines] are going to be impactful during those times.”


The CWU program not only prepares teachers to enter the classroom, it also helps provide the support needed for them to remain there.


“One of the things that Washington State and teacher education in general are concerned about is that too many teachers leave the field within the first five years,” Dechaine-Berkas points out. “One of the special things about the Central program is that it provides what’s called ‘induction support.’ So, we provide support to our graduates throughout their first two years of teaching.”


Through Teach STEM, the university also looks to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups majoring in science and science education, and ensure that all program graduates have familiarity with what’s known as “STEM integration.”


“So, every math student gets a little bit of experience with science, and every science student gets a little bit of experience with math, as well as project-based instruction,” Dechaine-Berkas explains. “This means they’re learning how to teach math, science, and computer science using real-world experiences that are relevant to the communities that their students come from.”


CWU-Des Moines was selected for the expanded program because of its established history of having strong teacher-education programs.


“Because of that long tradition, Central already has solid relationships with school districts in western Washington,” Dechaine-Berkas says. “One of the special things about the Des Moines program is that students are going to have field experiences in area schools in all six quarters. Those early field experiences are critical to helping students develop the basics of teaching—their starter skills—which they build on from there.”


Based on feedback from the first program graduates, who received their diplomas last June, it’s a successful formula.


“I’ve had a number of mentor teachers, who have been working with student teachers for years, tell me that our student teachers this [past] year were more prepared than in previous years,” Dechaine-Berkas adds.


Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487,

Monday, September 23, 2019

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