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Middle schoolers soar with STEM, thanks to $1 million boost from Phillips 66

Phillips 66 is helping an innovative nonprofit STEM curriculum provider build critical skills among the nation’s middle schoolers.

The company recently contributed $1 million to Project Lead The Way, which uses collaborative academic activities to expose students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Students in Houston’s Aldine school district, for example, were hard at work recently building a paper skimmer — which glides over the ground like a hovercraft — to make it go as far as possible.

“We know there’s some magic happening,” said Dr. Adrian Bustillos, chief transformation officer at Aldine ISD. “The students gain autonomy and confidence and are ready to go to the next level.”

The Phillips 66 contribution is helping to expand the STEM curriculum across communities within the company’s footprint of refinery and midstream assets, as well as schools in Houston, where the company’s headquarters is based.

The company is focusing its support on middle schools because they represent a crucial stage in educational and career development. To build a more diversified and equitable workforce in STEM fields, Phillips 66 supports academic training and education opportunities with a focus on girls and underrepresented groups.  

Created by teachers in 1997, Project Lead The Way provides professional development to teachers and offers a hands-on curriculum to develop students’ proficiency in STEM. More than 12,000 schools across the U.S. are using the program, and a study found that high-school graduates taught Project Lead The Way’s curriculum are three times more likely to major in STEM fields.

“We know the importance of early access to STEM,” said Chief Impact Officer Katie Minihan of Project Lead The Way.  “Students develop confidence in the skills they are learning and understand how to apply them to real-world scenarios. This strong foundation allows students to be more prepared for tomorrow’s workforce.”

At Aldine’s Garcia Middle School, the skimmer activity teaches the predominantly minority and low-income student population essential skills like measuring, setting hypotheses and understanding the value of trial and error. One student beamed after her skimmer traveled 18 feet across Tammy Taylor’s science classroom, one of the best results of the day.

Since Taylor implemented the new curriculum, she has taken 21 students to the state level and six to the national level in competitions sponsored by the Technology Student Association.

“I feel more like a facilitator rather than a teacher,” said Taylor. “The students literally teach each other.”