TAMPA, Fla. - Tampa is leading the way in creating new high-skill jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math or STEM. Right now, there are an estimated 15,727 jobs available in those areas locally. That's why one school is working to get young kids interested now to fill those jobs long into the future.
In a new classroom in Tampa, kids sit on exercise balls and write on the desks. It's all in dedication to the critically important fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
"It's really fun. I like the idea of all the challenges," said student Gus Baier.
St. Lawrence Catholic School in Tampa just opened a new STEM lab this school year. Students from preschool through 8th grade come in once a week and get a whole new hands-on way of learning about those subjects.
In Wednesday's lesson, kids were doing an experiment by putting together parachutes with paper products, string, and marshmallows to see what worked best, to get the fastest drop time.
"It's that tying all these subjects together that really helps them understand that just because I built a parachute, doesn't mean I wasn't doing science. So we're talking about gravity, and air resistance," said St. Lawrence teacher Maggie Goneau.
Class time also incorporates research in a brand new computer lab. Soon, kids will have iPads to help them plan projects and even learn computer coding.
The goal of lab time goes beyond helping kids make the grade in science and math. It's helping prepare them for in-demand careers.
"Because that's where these kids are headed. When they leave school, and enter the job field, that's what the majority of the jobs that are going to be available to them in," said Goneau.
And it seems to be sparking interest and changing minds in some fifth graders already.
"When you think of people and you see a bridge, you don't really know who makes it. But we made a bridge once, and it really makes you think about what people have to go through to do it," said student Jenna Leonardo.
There's a huge emphasis on teamwork and seeing all the different ways to apply the skills learned in the class to the high-demand jobs of the future.
"If we start them young, and they can talk with people about what they're doing, instead of just trying to stay in their bubble, they'll better be able to work with their employers and other co-workers to design what they need to do for the future," said Goneau.
With the number of STEM jobs expected to keep growing faster than any other area in the next 20 years, these students are well on their way.
You can learn more about the demand for STEM workers, and the kinds of jobs available here.