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Navy invests in Chicago Public Schools science, tech program

Updated: March 18, 2013 6:49AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is calling in the Navy — literally — to give Chicago Public School students the expertise they need to qualify for technology jobs.

The U.S. Department of the Navy on Friday disclosed plans to make a five-year, $2 million investment in students at Chicago’s Rickover Naval Academy and at five schools specializing in science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM.

Thanks to the Navy, up to 1,000 students attending those six schools will benefit from intensive summer enrichment programs, year-round mentoring and free computer science classes at Chicago City Colleges to earn advanced college-level credit.

The Chicago program is still in the design stages but it was described as a “full-day, STEM summer camp” that will build on what students learn during the school year.

Summer program leaders will provide year-round mentoring to students. The Navy also will pay for students to attend computer science and other STEM-related courses at City Colleges so they can pile up college credits.

The program was announced hours before President Barack Obama returned home to address the gang violence that claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton and highlight his call for a nationwide investment in the STEM education that gives kids a leg-up on the jobs of tomorrow.

“By partnering with the Department of the Navy, we are taking a huge step towards this goal, deepening our students’ science, technology and math skills and supporting them with real-world, in-demand and Naval-relevant experiences that open the doors even wider to future career options,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a news release.

Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder said the Navy has 20 STEM initiatives around the country. Chicago’s five STEM high schools and their proximity to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center made this the “right time to partner with Chicago,” Klunder said.

“In really challenging times fiscally, even a small investment could have a huge, positive impact on our young people,” said Klunder, Naval STEM executive and chief of Naval research for the U.S. Navy.

Klunder said summer camp participants would be exposed to “Naval-relevant content and research,” including “under-sea challenges with under-sea vehicles,” the oceans and Navy architecture in salt water.

“Our workforce in our labs and work centers — these are scientists. They’re getting grey hair and grey beards. Fifty percent of them may retire in the next five years,” he said.

“This program will not only improve our national STEM effort, but hopefully some young people energized by hearing about a laser system or underwater vehicle might want to join our family.”

Shortly after Emanuel took office, IBM awarded a $400,000 challenge grant to CPS used to develop a “playbook” for five high-tech high schools.

Four months later, five technology giants joined forces with CPS and City Colleges to open six-year public high schools that allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree and the expertise they need to qualify for technology jobs.

The partnership called for IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions and Verizon to develop curricula, mentor students, place them in summer internships and guarantee every student who completes the six-year program a “first-in-line” job interview after graduation.

DePaul University subsequently agreed to join forces with Microsoft to help Lake View High School make the conversion to one of five STEM high schools.

When Lake View juniors and seniors become eligible for college-level courses, they will take those classes at DePaul, earn credits and become “first-in-line” for admission to DePaul. The university also will help develop the new Lake View curriculum and train Lake View teachers.

In December, Emanuel announced plans to nearly triple the “dual credit” program that gives CPS high school students a chance to sharpen their math and English skills, earn college credits and reduce their college tuition costs without leaving their high school classrooms.

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