BY SHARON HILLSTROM

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and his education team searched the country for a school to launch the WOZ Career Pathway program in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), how did Manatee County rise to the top?

The Wozniak team heard that Manatee County was leading the state in offering innovative projects related to STEM education. Among those initiatives, every public elementary school in Manatee County will have a dedicated STEM instructor to work with every grade level, starting in kindergarten.

Inspired by that vision, Wozniak’s WOZ Career Pathway program will launch this coming school year at Palm View Elementary in Palmetto. Palm View will be the first school in the nation to offer the WOZ program to prepare K-6 students for the technology-rich world around them. They will experience engineering design, coding, drone technology, cyber security, mobile development, and more.

Manatee County’s STEM initiative is designed to progress through middle school, high school and beyond. The results speak for themselves as students at every level – elementary, middle, high school and Manatee Technical College (MTC) – consistently outshine their peers statewide and nationally in STEM-oriented competitions held by organizations like SkillsUSA and the Technology Student Association.

One exciting example is the F1 in Schools USA National Championships where a team of Manatee County students captured the top prize, qualifying to compete in the World Finals later this year.

F1 in Schools is reportedly the largest global STEM competition in the world. Students use computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) to develop, test, manufacture, and run CO2 powered, miniature Formula 1 racing cars. The teams also collaborate to plan and construct a 10-foot pit display, create a verbal presentation, and produce portfolios describing their F1 in Schools journey.

The Manatee County school district is continuing to build on STEM-related programs that directly apply to the needs of local employers. At MTC, an 18-month search for the right instructor has culminated in Central Florida’s only program to train electrical and instrumentation technicians – a high-demand career. MTC’s 10-month program prepares students to build, wire and program PLCs (programmable logic controllers), which are used throughout manufacturing, robotics, engineering design and related industries.

Our school district’s focus on preparing students for STEM-related careers is a major asset for Manatee County’s economic future as we work to recruit and retain high-wage jobs to diversify the local economy. Preparing college-bound students through rigorous academics also appeals to companies considering locating here.

The School District of Manatee County is one of just two school districts in Florida that placed on the College Board’s annual AP® District Honor Roll. Since 2016, Manatee Schools increased the number of students participating in AP (Advanced Placement) while also increasing or maintaining the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher. Reaching these goals shows that our district is successfully identifying motivated, academically prepared students who are ready for AP.

High school seniors graduating this year from the School District of Manatee County earned more than $19 million in scholarships, not including Florida’s Bright Futures. Students from the Class of 2019 have been accepted into nearly 230 colleges and universities.

At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC), the companies we work to attract and retain in Manatee County are unanimous in wanting – and needing – excellent K-12 and technical education. They want – and need – ready-to-work, skilled employees with strong work ethics and inquiring minds.

Manatee County schools are working hard to deliver on all fronts. To learn more, visit manateeschools.net.