LA schools boost math, science to in effort to stem reliance on foreign workers

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Industry research suggests that within six years, businesses in this country will face a serious shortage of native-born science, technology, engineering and math-trained graduates from American universities. One solution is to welcome more qualified immigrants with this training, but another approach is making sure that immigrants’ children in the United States also learn these skills.

It’s science fair season, when teachers try to get kids excited about fields of study that many public schools don’t emphasize. Hollenbeck Middle School in Boyle Heights recently turned its gym into an exhibit hall filled with dozens of students’ projects.

“In my country, we focus a lot on math and science," says Tony Seemaan, a science teacher at Hollenbeck who immigrated from Lebanon.

“The districts – the state, actually – they concentrate on English and math," he says. "They tend to neglect science. But lately because of some programs like Impact L.A., STEM Up, that we have in our school, we’re trying to push science and math a bit more.”

Nonprofits like Impact LA and STEM Up work alongside Southland industries and universities to increase home-grown technical talent. They try to reach out to low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles, which are largely Latino and home to second- or third-generation immigrants.

Gary Toebben of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce says U.S. companies need now more than ever to get this generation into math and science.

“The number one challenge they face is finding the technical people they need to design new software and new computer hardware," says Tobben. "We really need to encourage more people to go into those sectors, or we’ll always be dependent on labor from some other country.”

Fewer than 5 percent of college graduates in this country focus on math and science, but that’s where the jobs are.

Toebben predicts that without industry-friendly immigration reforms and more emphasis on science education, the United States will lose its global economic advantage in less than a decade.

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