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Department of Education Announces Launch of Science Education Leadership Network

07/13/2021

Harrisburg, PA - In a continued effort to support STEM access and initiatives across the commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and NextGenScience announce the launch of the Pennsylvania Science Education Leaders (PennSEL) Network, a cohort of leadership teams representing 19 regions across Pennsylvania with the goal of improving science learning for all students.

"The pandemic has helped intensify STEM’s critical value and important role in creating solutions to some of the world's biggest challenges,” said Acting Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Dr. Sherri Smith. “We are committed to building sustainable networks of educators who will engage in and support the development of STEM literacy for every student, equipping them with the tools needed to solve problems through STEM in their communities, across the commonwealth, and around the world."

The PennSEL Network builds upon a larger strategy to strengthen STEM education by investing in and increasing access to STEM learning experiences for educators and students. In September 2019, the State Board of Education charged PDE with beginning the process of updating Pennsylvania’s science, technology, environment, ecology, and engineering standards for the first time in approximately 20 years. The PennSEL Network will support and help prepare educators for any potential changes that may result.

The PennSEL Network will bring together Intermediate Unit (IU)-based teams of over 120 IU, community, district, and school-based science leaders to build a common strategy for improving local systems of science teaching and learning. The program will provide new opportunities for educators and leaders to reflect on practice, share their best ideas, and collectively problem solve between organizations and across regions. Regional demonstration sites will be used to generate tools, resources, and processes that can be shared with school leaders and educators across the state to spotlight innovations that are working equitably to serve students. 

“When educators from the school, district, regional, and state level work together toward a common vision for science education, it makes a huge difference in creating meaningful and inclusive science experiences for students,” said Vanessa Wolbrink, associate director of NextGenScience. “Given events of the past year, it’s more important than ever that all students are empowered to think of science as something that helps them address issues that affect their lives and communities." Wolbrink led the Tennessee District Science Network and will oversee the work of the PennSEL Network.

The participating teams represent 19 regions geographically distributed across Pennsylvania. The regions serve nearly 720,000 students attending nearly 1,800 schools across 305 districts. 89 percent of team members work in schools or districts where over 50 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 40 percent of team members serve schools or districts where over 50 percent of students are Black or Hispanic.

Partners and support for the PennSEL Network include Arconic Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Grable Foundation.

The Wolf administration has continued to provide resources and support to the STEM field. Earlier this year, Governor Tom Wolf announced $10.8 million in PAsmart Advancing Grants to expand access to computer science and STEM education for Pennsylvania learners. Combined with PAsmart Targeted Grants announced in 2020, the Wolf administration has awarded nearly $20 million to bolster STEM and computer science (CS) in schools during the 2020-21 school year.

For more information about NextGenScience, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Education, please visit PDE’s website or follow PDE on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kendall Alexander, kenalexand@pa.gov

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