State leaders converge at UVU to discuss future of education

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For a few local seventh graders, speaking in front of an audience of state leaders is much easier than the homework they spend their summer nights completing.

Four seventh-grade students talked about their experience this summer enrolled in the UVU pre-freshman engineering program at Utah Valley University’s Social Summit held this week. The summit also gathered business, government and education executives to discuss improving childhood education in the state.

UVU President Matthew S. Holland, greets UVU PREP students (from left)  Eliza Ballantyne, Ben Zobrist and Jaquelyn Lazos at the Utah Valley University The Social Summit at Riverside County Club in Provo, Utah Monday July, 15, 2013. (Photo byAugust Miller, UVU Marketing)
UVU President Matthew S. Holland, greets UVU PREP students (from left) Eliza Ballantyne, Ben Zobrist and Jaquelyn Lazos at the Utah Valley University The Social Summit at Riverside County Club in Provo, Utah Monday July, 15, 2013. (Photo by August Miller, UVU Marketing)

The seventh graders in attendance are part of the first ever UVU Prep class. The seven-week summer program is aimed at motivating young minds to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The students enrolled in UVU Prep received high scores in math and reading and are now taking unique classes that expose them to STEM fields such as logic, engineering and problem solving.

The social summit was part of a joint effort of UVU and the United Way of Utah County and the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce to improve literacy and math attainment among Utah children.

Bill Hulterstrom, president of the United Way of Utah County, told those gathered that there is a unique community in Utah County that presents special opportunities for improvement in education. Hulterstrom suggested engaging kids in reading and neighborhood homework clubs.

“We need more reading, tutoring and involvement,” Hulterstrom said. “When a student doesn’t do well in school, everyone suffers.”

The keynote speaker at the summit was Mossi White, former president of the National Association of School Boards. She said educators face major responsibilities to educate the rising generation.

“We do, figuratively speaking, have in our hands the hands of all the children in our community,” White said.

Every child has the right to access the best education, White said, and it is the responsibility of the community to ensure that happens.

Val Hale, president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, spoke about his experiences visiting prominent technology companies. He said each company wants to grow its workforce but cannot find enough qualified people coming out of college; the companies recognize the need to begin training kids in STEM fields at an early age.

“There is nothing more important than seeing young people reading and interested in math,” Hale said.

Twenty-six students are currently enrolled in UVU Prep. It was modeled after a program started in Texas that has grown to include more than 3,000 participating students. UVU plans to expand the prep program to include more students each summer and possibly introduce it to other universities throughout Utah.

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