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Learner Podcast

Episode 31: Bringing STEM Education into the Classroom and Making Music Education Relevant

Author: Marcelle Hutchins

This episode is a two-parter. The first half of the conversation features Angel Beamer, who serves as the National Program Director for EnCorps, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect highly effective STEM educators with public school students, helping them overcome systemic barriers to accessing a quality STEM education. 

The second half of this episode is with Bryson Tarbet, a Pre-K to 6th-grade music teacher who uses social media to connect with other teachers online and shares tips on making music education relevant for all learners.  


(The interview has been edited for length and clarity) 

Nati Rodriguez [1:52] 

Can you tell us a little bit about EnCorps, and what the vision is behind the organization? 

Angel Beamer [1:58] 

We were founded in 2007. Now we’re in California and New York and we have our tutor program in Denver. We connect high quality STEM industry professionals and those with advanced STEM degrees with students in under resourced communities because we believe that every student should have access to a high-quality STEM educationThe first program that we launched in 2007 is the EnCorps STEM Teachers’ Program. In that program, we recruit, select, and support STEM industry professionals – those with advanced STEM degrees – who are interested in, and passionate about, possibly transitioning from industry into teaching in high needs middle and high schools, teaching STEM. In 2020, at the height of COVID, we launched our STEMx Tutor Program where we tutor middle school students in math, and we match them with a STEM industry professional. 

Nati Rodriguez [3:03] 

And how does a professional that is potentially on this path, how do they hear about EnCorps? I imagine it’s a unique transition, given that they’ve already had a lot of professional experience in their field.  

Angel Beamer [3:18] 

Yeah, so, we’re on all the platforms – LinkedIn, Indeed. Because our fellows come from industry, they’re alumni of the MIT Association in NorCal, or SoCal, or they work at NASA and in aerospace, or they work at Google. 

Nati Rodriguez [3:46] 

What is the number one reason those professionals decide to make that transition?  

Angel Beamer [3:49] 

Because it doesn’t seem rational, does it? What we’re not doing is accepting those who, maybe their consulting gig isn’t working out, so they’ll think they just want to be a teacher, or they want summers off – that’s not going to work, right?  

The candidates that come into our program – it’s one or two things that brought them to us. One of them being, I always wanted to be a teacher, but I somehow didn’t go on that path. I got my degree in STEM, like, let’s say, engineering, I went into a career in engineering that wasn’t teaching. But in my engineering career, I actually got to train people, and I really loved it, I was good at it.  So, now I’m at a point in my life, that I actually can explore, maybe getting back to what I really wanted to do –  which is teaching.  And/or teaching has always been in their family, so their parents were teachers, grandparents, partner, etc.. Those are the top two reasons that people come into our program. And they all just want to make an impact in the lives of students, and create STEM awareness and STEM identity in students.  

Nati Rodriguez [4:56] 

So now that they’re in the program, what is the program like? What kind of experiences do they get, and then what happens when they complete it? 

Angel Beamer [5:04] 

If we’re talking about the STEM Teachers’ program, once they come into our program, they are matched with a program coordinator. All of our program coordinators are all credentialed teachers. So when they come into our program, we have a welcome call with them; it’s part of our onboarding. Everybody comes in with a different situationSome will say, I am actually retiring in the next two years – so I’m on more of an extended plan, I don’t intend to transition for the next two to three years. We say, okay, great, perfect. Then we will have some that will say I’m ready to teach this time next year, I want to be on an accelerated pathway. So that informs us about what the support is going to look like for each of our program coordinators, in terms of how we‘re going to support that fellow. The biggest component of our program, and really the heart of our program, is what we call Volunteer Guest Teaching. So, once they come into our program, we introduce them to a host teacher, it’s a veteran teacher at one of our school partners. We only partner with high needs schools. 

These schools are amazing, they allow us to have our fellows in classrooms during the instructional day, exploring teaching. So, the average age of our fellows is 45 years old. Some have not been in a middle school or high school classroom in a while. Even though they’ve got this passion, they’ve always had it. We want them to make an informed decision before going to that next step, which is credentialing and spending the time and the money and then realize this is not what I thought and then they get out and it does none of us any good, right? The guest teaching – the school allows the fellow to come in for two hours a week minimum. Some fellows are there five hours a week, for 10 weeks. It’s always with the same students in the same class so they can build those relationships. During the guest teaching experience, the first couple of weeks, they’re just observing, and just kind of taking it all in. While they’re doing that, though, they are working in our volunteer module in Google Classroom.  

They’re doing reflections and observations during their guest teaching experience, and we’ve aligned them to the TPEs – the Teacher Performance Expectations. We’re just trying to get out ahead of the credentialing program and just really introducing that language to them. 

Because here’s the thing – they come into our program as experts in STEM, so experts in science, biology, chemistry, math. But in terms of teaching that subject in a way that every student is able to access it is a whole different story. That’s the art of teaching, that’s pedagogy. We really want them to see what that looks like and understand it. So, by week three, four, the host teacher is saying, hey, you want to jump into this small group and get some direct instruction and help or work with a student one-on-one? By week five, the host teacher might say hey, do you want to teach a small part of the lesson with me and co-teach with me or do you want to do the warmup for today? And really, what they’re ramping up to is by week eight, they’re going to create a lesson plan. They’re not a teacher, yet – so the host teacher helps them. 

And by week 10 or 11, they’re going to teach that lesson to the class or classes they’ve been volunteering in, they will get feedback from their host teacher, the program coordinator goes in and gives feedback, and the students give feedback, which is my favorite part. 

And I will say, within three weeks, I would say probably 95% of our fellows go, this is it. This is what I want to do. Talk to me about next steps. Next steps would be alright, let’s look at a credential program that will work for you, and makes sense for you, whether that’s a residency program or an intern program; but here’s the thing we might have some say, this is not what I thought it was. And so, I think I don’t want to be a teacher but I do want to continue to have an impact in the lives of students so they might become a STEMx Tutor. 

Nati Rodriguez [9:00] 

Thank you for sharing that. I’d love to hear, if you can maybe speak to a particular story of a fellow who went through the STEM Teacher Program and became a teacher. What does their teacher trajectory look like? Do you have any data on how long they stick around as a teacher in these schools?  

Angel Beamer [9:18] 

Yeah, totally. On average, 83% of our teachers stay in the profession five plus years. 

When they come to us, they tell us like, this is my next chapter, and this is going to be my legacyI also just want to mention that so far, we’ve had two LAUSD Rookie Teachers of the Year.  

Nati Rodriguez [9:40] 

Wow. That’s amazing. Congrats! 

I’m curious what you think the challenge is in getting more teachers in STEM education. Because as we all know, there’s not enough teachers, definitely not enough STEM teachers, and EnCorps is really working to change that. So why does that exist? 

Angel Beamer [10:04] 

I’m just going to say it’s not easy to find these people, the unicorns, right, who want to leave industry, some of them making six figures and go into teaching. I would never act like it was. But I will say this – if we want to make teaching a more desirable profession, we need to pay teachers a salary that they can live off of.  I’ve been a teacher, I think you’ve been a teacher, it is exhausting. It is the most rewarding job that I’ve ever had, but it’s exhausting. And so, to then have to come home from a full day and work another job because your teaching salary doesn’t pay enough for you to live is pretty ridiculous. 

Also, politics needs to stay out of the classroom. I think that is also scaring people a little bit. And those are big things to tackle that EnCorps doesn’t have any control overAll we can do is keep pushing forward the work that we’re doing in trying to solve this very complex problem.  

Nati Rodriguez [11:39] 

As a former educator, how do you see schools approach STEM in the classroom in general? 

Angel Beamer [11:48] 

Before I came to EnCorps, I really didn’t know any differentNow that I do, it’s like – mind blown. And I’ll tell you why. By year seven, I thought I was a pretty good teacher, and I didn’t teach STEM. I taught more humanities, but I thought I was pretty goodI thought I was making an impact. And then I go into EnCorps teachers’ classrooms, and I’m like, well, I wasn’t even near this goodYear two, they’re killing it, because they come with such a different lens. They’re teaching a subject that they’ve applied in their industry for on average of 15 years. And so, they’re not teaching just out of a book, and standing in front of a classroom, and jotting down notes, while students, take notes, and then there’s a quiz and a test, right? That’s teacher-centered. EnCorps teacher classrooms are super student-centered – it’s project-based, it’s hands on. Because they came from industry, they understand how to make that subject relevant to the lives of students, to the world around them. 

They really make sure that students know how to apply what they’re learningLet me tell you, every time I go into one of their classrooms, I’m taking notes going, if I ever go back to teaching, I’m going to steal this best practice, I’m stealing that strategy. I think we need to be more comfortable with the sort of project-based, problem-solving approach. The teacher can be the facilitator – but let them really, really, critically think and work together and solve these problems and figure it out, and then come back together and talk about it. And I just think there’s not enough of that happening.  

Nati Rodriguez [13:30] 

Yeah, it makes me think about – a lot of the research shows that a student-led classroom, student-centric, project-based hands-on, connected to the real world – produces better outcomes for students. And it’s so hard to get a traditional teacher with the path that we have laid out to become a teacher to teach in that way. But for these professionals, it seems like a no brainer. So, I’m wondering how you marry those so that it becomes easier and that burden or what seems to be a heavy lift is gone or minimized? 

Angel Beamer [14:10] 

By the way, I’m not judging teachers that don’t come from industry and are teaching more traditional at all. I think every teacher is doing the absolute best that they can. 

And intentions are good, obviously. But in terms of classroom management, there are teachers who didn’t come from industry, who really, really understand how your curriculum can help inform that classroom management. Honestharing strategies with each other, whether it’s classroom management, differentiation of instruction, like all those things, it’s just working together and sharing best practices with each other. And I don’t think it happens enough, to be honest.  

Nati Rodriguez [14:55] 

I believe teachers are always trying to improve their practice, right. Given the opportunity to learn from others and see how their peers do things is a way to continue to improve their practice.  

Angel Beamer [15:10] 

For sure, yeah 

Nati Rodriguez [15:17] 

So, you talked about the STEMx Tutors ProgramI know it started in 2020. How is that going? And who are the tutors? 

Angel Beamer [15:24]  

We had always had on our radar, because we’re a STEM Teachers’ Program and we have STEM industry professionals who become fellows who want to teach math. So, we’re always looking at data. We’re always looking at the percentage of students that were proficient or not proficient in math, super concerningThe last data I read was like only 26% of eighth graders in the United States are proficient in math. And the stats are even more dire for our students of color. 

When COVID hit in late summer 2020, we were looking at all of this and we were very, very concernedThey’re already not performing at proficient at math, there are so many gaps already. What is going to happen to these kids when school starts in the fall, and everything’s online? And so, I had an idea in my head, and because time was of the essence – school had already started – I was flying the plane as I was building it. And so, what I did was I went to two of our partner schools on the STEM EnCorps STEM Teachers’ side, and said: “‘Hey, I’ve got this idea for a tutor program. Tutoring middle school students in math, sixth graders, we’re going to start with a cohort of sixth graders, would like to pilot it with you, are you down?’” And of course, they were like, absolutely.  

And so, what it looked like that first year is, students were identified by the school site as needing this program, needing to be tutored by a STEM industry professional. Once the parents were on board, everybody was on board, we then matched each student. It was a one to one with a STEM industry professional to tutor that student in math and we had a cohort of 25 sixth graders at both of those schoolsIt was a commitment. They’re getting tutored twice a week for an hour each session with the same tutor. We wanted to see an impact in their math proficiency, but we also wanted them to connect to this STEM industry professional, their tutor, and to start creating some STEM awareness as authentically as you possibly could in these sessions, which happened. 

So, those sixth graders are now in high school, and many of them have stayed with their tutor, which is like, did not expect that to happen, but fantastic. And so now it’s turned into a lot of mentoring, which I love. 

We found that during that pilot season 84% of the students either maintained– which we thought in a COVID year, they didn’t fall backwards – they maintained their math proficiency, or they increased it some by two grade levels.  

Now our tutors are from all over the country. The sixth graders are in a classroom, either after school or during the instructional day. We are tutoring a math intervention class. And so, they’re logging on to meet with their tutors on a two-to-oneOnce they go to seventh and eighth grade if they decide, ‘I can manage this at home and just meet my tutor virtually at home twice a week that works for us’ that’s fine. We support that as well. 

Nati Rodriguez [18:40] 

That’s great. So, you mentioned that those first students are now high school students. What does the participation look like now? And what’s the reach of the program in terms of numbers of students served? 

Angel Beamer [18:51] 

We’ve served close to 200 students. Last year 90% of the sixth graders that tutored with us increased their math proficiency – compared to 70% of the sixth graders at the school site who didn’t have an EnCorps tutor. So, what we’re hearing and the feedback we’re getting from our tutors, because they do give feedback after every tutoring session. And so, we do have that data as well. But what they’re telling us is they’re doing a little bit of math, and now it’s more about mentoring and looking at STEM fields that they’re potentially interested in and creating that STEM awareness. Also, when they’re 18, we’ve heard that they’re going to help them with their LinkedIn page, they’re going to help them network, they’re going to help them with college apps, which maybe that’s a new program we eventually build out down the road – a mentor program, TBD. It’s gone beyond my wildest dreams.  

Nati Rodriguez [19:49] 

Yeah, it sounds transformational for those students and the tutor participating in this relationship.  

Angel Beamer [19:57]  

Absolutely. One of the things I also just wanted to point out that I think is really important is that, like I said, we look at our data at the end of the school year. And the kids that have worked with an EnCorps tutor, 84% of them said they are more confident in their math class. 97% of them reported that they have improved in math because of their EnCorps STEMx tutor. And then in terms of developing that STEM identity, which we also work towards, 90% reported that they have a good understanding of how they will use math in their daily life. 82% said that they know more about different kinds of STEM jobs, and 67% said that they believe they belong in STEM. Those were our sixth graders. I think as they continue to work with their STEMx tutor, that number will just get higher and higher. We have some of the best tutors, and they’re volunteers. They love it. They just want to give back and have an impact in the life of a student.  

Nati Rodriguez [21:04] 

And you’re catching them at the critical point, because I think sixth grade is when people start to drop off of math, and they can really change their attitude around it. But with this program, and with the connection to this adult that’s helping them navigate math and STEM, hopefully most of those kids are sticking with it. 

Angel Beamer [21:29] 

Will they end up in a STEM field? I don’t know. Are they going to go after a STEM degree? Do they want to be a coder and get certificatesI don’t know, we’ll continue to follow them as best we can. 

Nati Rodriguez [21:47] 

Thank you, Angel. I’m going to shift gears a little bit here. What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to these days? 

Angel Beamer [21:53] 

I’m not really reading anything other than articles that I see online about STEM education. That’s all I’m doing. I’m too tired at night. I just close my eyes and go to bed. But I listen to a lot of podcasts because I’m in the car a lot here in LA, so I listen to a lot of podcasts. My son who is a sophomore in college, he is constantly trying to get me to watch these different anime shows on Netflix which are pretty cool.  So that’s what’s going on right now.  

Nati Rodriguez [22:37] 

Got it. And is there anything that you would like to share with our Learner audience before we sign off? 

Angel Beamer [22:43] 

I would just always encourage teachers, whether you’re year one, year five, year 10, you’re always going to learn from other teachers. To spend as much time in their classroom as you possibly can after school or during your conference period. Just constantly collect more tools for your tool belt and then have the opportunity to share your own. 


Nati Rodriguez [24:11] 

Well, I’d love to hear – what influenced you to become a music teacher? 

Bryson Tarbet [24:15] 

I had a lot of reasons why I became a teacher, a lot of kinds of things that fell into place. My parents were both teachers, my grandpa was a teacher. So, I always knew education was probably a safe bet.  

Nati Rodriguez [24:28] 

That’s amazing. So, some of the research shows that students interested in music decline between the first or second year of instruction. How do you encourage your students to stick with music long after they’ve taken your class 

Bryson Tarbet [24:39] 

The more we can get them doing music as early as possible, the biggest thing you can do. But the next thing is to make it relevant – whatever subject we’re teaching, make it so that it isn’t this thing that happens in a box that this is music class, and just this is what music is, or this what this is, what music can mean. And this is what music how music could work. 

Nati Rodriguez [25:02] 

Ok – assuming there’s only one music teacher at an elementary school site, what kinds of opportunities exist for collaboration and sharing of best practices with your colleagues in the field?  

Bryson Tarbet [25:12] 

The reality is, is many music teachers, the vast majority, I would say, are the only music teacher in that school, sometimes even the only music teacher in the district.  

Nati Rodriguez [25:21] 

What suggestions would you give to parents and educators who want to spark a love of music and young people?  

Bryson Tarbet [25:27] 

Look at a baby look at a toddler. They’re constantly singing, they’re babbling. The reality is we want to be musical. And then sometimes, we gradually get less and less. It’s cultural. It’s societal. But the reality is, is music is more than just classical music. It is the sounds we hear around us. It’s just another art form.  

  • EnCorps 
  • STEM Teachers Program 
  • STEMx 
  • NASA  
  • Music   


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