Research shows that exposing students to STEM between grades one and three provides them with a foundation to enter many STEM-related careers: as doctors, chemists, geologists, computer scientists and many more.

Introducing these fields in elementary school helps capture students’ imaginations and kindle their interest in STEM. Besides the fun, these hands-on learning experiences foster a mindset that embraces innovation, experimentation and collaboration. That foundation will support this generation throughout their lives as they face an increasingly complex, interconnected world.

STEM careers are among the nation’s highest-paying and fastest-growing jobs. Early exposure to STEM education primes students to take advantage of these career opportunities — and the economic benefits that come with them. Without it, we risk perpetuating an exclusionary cycle that alienates underrepresented communities from STEM careers and fuels lifelong opportunity gaps.

As parents have become more involved in their children’s education, they deserve to know how and where STEM is coming to life in their schools — and, more importantly, how to make sure that their children can take advantage of opportunities.

This is especially important now, as inconsistent and inequitable access to these subjects continues to reinforce representation gaps in STEM careers. In today’s STEM workforce, Black and Hispanic adults represent just 8 and 9 percent of the field, respectively. And while women make up 50 percent of STEM workers, they are overrepresented in health-related occupations compared to other areas like engineering and architecture.

We can reduce representation gaps in STEM and prepare more students to join the STEM-related workforce — but we have to start young. Students need opportunities to develop the critical thinking skills that will allow them to succeed in these fields.

Read the full article about student STEM pipelines by Jon Deane at The Hechinger Report.