On National STEM Day, educators across America celebrated the exciting opportunities made possible by science, technology, engineering, and math studies. Charter schools have been major contributors to making STEM education more widely available to students in every neighborhood and from every background.
One charter school network that’s leading the charge: Harmony Public Schools.
Harmony Public Schools was founded with a mission—to encourage students in underserved communities to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. There’s a well-known gap in STEM education with African American, Hispanic, and low-income students taking AP science courses and majoring in sciences in college at much lower rates than White, Asian, and wealthier students. But Harmony’s founders and educators—many of whom hold advanced degrees in science and engineering fields—knew that these disparities were about access, not ability, so they leveraged the charter school model to build a different kind of school.
Based in Houston, Harmony places a heavy emphasis on STEM through its award-winning PreK-12 curriculum and helps students gain critical job skills and hands-on experience for the future. At Harmony campuses, it’s not unusual to see 2nd graders using a 3D printer to code and print their own toys or high schoolers creating 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for families in need. The end result is remarkable—58 percent of Harmony alumni choose STEM majors in college, more than double the national and Texas averages.
By exposing students to cutting-edge technology and hands-on experiences, Harmony is leveling the playing field for underrepresented groups and giving students the support they need to find their passion. Khalid, a Harmony School of Excellence alum, credited his school with helping him to discover his love of engineering and inspiring him to positively influence his community.
In addition, teachers like Theresa Gray (who was just awarded Teacher of the Year by the Texas Charter Schools Association) are given the flexibility to offer classes on Entrepreneurship and Social Media Marketing in order to prepare students for a 21st century workforce.
This dedication to personalized learning and innovative teaching approaches has paid off. Harmony has a 98 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of those graduating seniors are accepted to college, a feat that is made even more impressive by the fact that 64 percent of Harmony alumni are the first in their family to attend college.
Harmony Public Schools have received glowing ratings from the Texas Education Agency. In 2019, the agency awarded five out of seven Harmony networks an overall “A” rating for their academics and gave all seven networks “A” ratings for financial accountability. National media have noticed, too. This year, all 23 Harmony high schools were on U.S. News & World Report’s list of best high schools.
Harmony’s CEO, Fatih Ay, says, “A solid foundation in STEM allows our students to better understand the world around them and connects them with the future careers and opportunities that can make that world a better place. That’s why STEM is at the heart of Harmony’s academic model.” Harmony schools are proving that no student should have their horizons limited by low expectations or lack of access to world-class teaching. By inspiring students to pursue some of the most innovative work in the world, Harmony is showing students that nothing is beyond their reach.
This article was written by Starlee Coleman, CEO of the Texas Charter Schools Association. It originally appeared in a blog post for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.