Bradenton Herald | by Giuseppe Sabella | May 4, 2021
Thanks to a partnership between Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and the Manatee County School District, young students in Palmetto have learned about high-tech jobs for the 21st century. That program could soon expand to schools throughout the county if Gov. Ron DeSantis approves a $950,000 line in Florida’s historic budget.
Lawmakers approved the $101.5 billion budget on Friday, including a request for nearly $1 million to expand Woz ED Pathways, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program at Palm View K-8 in Palmetto. The request — sponsored by state Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton — would help district leaders bring the program to other campuses throughout Manatee County.
“The world needs inventors — great ones,” Wozniak said in a prerecorded video, addressing local students in 2019. “If your learners love what they do and are willing to do what it takes, it’s within their reach. And it’ll be worth every minute they spend alone at night, thinking and thinking about what it is they want to design or build.”
Students at Palm View K-8, formerly known as Palm View Elementary School, have learned about cybersecurity, drones, coding, engineering and mobile app development through Woz Pathways. In an interview on Monday afternoon, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said she was eager to bring those opportunities to more Manatee County students.
Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused economic uncertainty throughout Florida, the governor vetoed Manatee’s entire project request, putting a Woz Pathways expansion on the back burner.
“We are very optimistic,” Saunders said. “It certainly looks like we’re more hopeful this year than last. But until the governor signs, it’s not complete.”
Mark Anderson, a lobbyist for Woz ED, led the push to secure $950,000 for the project. The school district’s own lobbyist, Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting, also helped with the effort, Saunders said.
While the program currently exists at one school in northern Manatee County, the plan was to bring elements of the Woz Pathways curriculum to elementary schools in the east, west and south. The district hopes to spark an interest in modern, high-demand jobs, inspiring the young students to continue learning in secondary school and beyond.
The ultimate goal, Saunders said, was for graduates to keep their passions and skills in Manatee County, and for other districts throughout Florida to use the local Woz Pathways program as a model for their own schools.
“It’s to pique their interest young,” the superintendent said. “It gets them thinking about what possibilities are out there. It’s amazing. These career pathways did not even exist when I was in high school. Times are changing quickly.”