Transition Years (Grades 5-12)


Helios Education Foundation is working with Pinal County schools, the Arizona Rural Education Alliance Foundation and the Central Arizona College to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaching in the classroom. The Foundation's over $800,000 investment in the Next Generation of STEM Leaders is creating new professional development opportunities that train teachers to become STEM leaders.

Through this initiative, STEM teachers are increasing their content knowledge and expertise in related curriculum development, skill in unwrapping academic standards for teacher instruction and experience in selecting scientifically-based curriculum materials. Teachers are collaborating through professional learning communities at their schools and across the district.

"Research shows in order to improve science and mathematics instruction and raise student achievement strong education leadership is needed right at the district or school level," said Dr. Jo Anne Vasquez, VP and Program Director Transition Years Teacher and Curriculum Initiatives for Helios Education Foundation. "The Next Generation of STEM Leaders is an intensive, three year project which will build this strong cadre of STEM education site-based leadership who can effectively bring instructional change in each and every middle school classroom."
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Recognizing the critical role STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education plays in better preparing students for postsecondary education and career success, Helios Education Foundation is investing over $1.4 million in new Tampa Bay initiatives that focus on teacher quality and content knowledge in STEM.

As part of that investment, $495,000 is being directed toward a Citrus County initiative that is offering all 6th through 8th grade math and science teachers the opportunity to increase their knowledge in integrating math, science and computing in the classroom.

The Foundation is working with the Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (FCR-STEM) at Florida State University, Citrus County Public Schools and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

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Teachers participating in the program learn to use Microsoft Excel to generate and analyze mathematical models provided by SWFWMD. In applying this knowledge in the classroom, middle school math and science teachers help students examine water management issues directly relevant to their lives.

The project targets middle schoolers because they are choosing courses to take in high school that will influence their college and career paths. Students introduced to computational science early can develop new ways of thinking and problem-solving that are increasingly essential in the workforce.

"Blending STEM teaching and learning is strongly supported by research on how students learn but we know little about how to prepare teachers to do it," said Laura Lang, director of the Learning Systems Institute (LSI), which houses FCR-STEM.

"This project will develop and test a teacher professional development approach for students in the middle grades, a critical time for sparking interest in STEM and helping students understand first-hand what the work of scientists is all about," Lang added.

The program offers 120 hours of teacher professional development in integrating math and science instruction through real-world applications of water resource management, math modeling to deepen student understanding of math and science concepts and lesson study teams for STEM teachers.

Until recently, scientists had two ways to work: conduct physical experiments or construct theories. Today, computers offer a powerful, third way: mathematical modeling using computer simulations. In fact, computer-based modeling now allows scientists to model and analyze systems on a scale far greater than was previously possible, offering the potential to revolutionize nearly all science disciplines.

Harnessing the power of computers and mathematical modeling, scientists can, for example, conduct simulated experiments to test the effects of removing water from underground aquifers, study the effects of nitrogen on seagrass beds or identify optimal levels of fish harvesting.

"This project will open the eyes of teachers and students to the amazing power of math and science to improve their lives," said Robert Schoen, associate director of FCR-STEM and co-principal investigator on the project.

Also collaborating on the project are FSU's Office of Science Teaching Activities and Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science.

"Studies show us that one of the most influential ways to improve student achievement in the classroom is to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers in those classrooms," said Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna. "We are equipping middle school teachers with a higher level of content knowledge and teaching skill in STEM, and that combined with ongoing school and classroom initiatives, works to increase student achievement."


Getting families and communities more engaged early on in guiding a student's academic growth and development is essential to ensuring student success across the education continuum. Studies indicate that engaged families and communities are more likely to set high academic expectations that support a college-going culture and are most likely to succeed in ensuring college access and completion for their students.

Within its Transition Years focus, Helios is connecting the dots around family and community engagement, and is investing in college access resources centers that are helping improve postsecondary education achievement rates.

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