Students work at the Doshi STEM program at the LI...

Students work at the Doshi STEM program at the LI School for the Arts. The program, which is the first of its kind on Long Island, specializes in science and technology. (Sept. 10, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Opening a new school is not easy, especially in times of financial challenge. That's one reason to celebrate the high school launched in Syosset earlier this month by Nassau BOCES. But the Doshi STEM Program also is filling a critical need in educating students in districts lacking high-caliber programs in science, technology, engineering and math.

The program -- which seeks to prepare students to produce publishable research, succeed in the prestigious Intel and Siemens science and math competitions, and pursue college degrees in STEM fields -- started with 23 students in its first ninth-grade class. That was short of the target number of 50, but officials point out that going from zero to 23 is an accomplishment on its own. And they are confident enrollment will rise quickly. There's good reason for their optimism.

The school's engineering track, which begins in 10th grade and is based on a rigorous curriculum from the Rochester Institute of Technology, starts next year. Several districts beyond the six currently in the program -- Baldwin, Hicksville, Malverne, Oyster Bay, Uniondale and Westbury -- already have indicated they will send 10th-graders next year for that track.

Enrollment also figures to rise as word spreads about the STEM school. Malverne officials say the four students they are sending to the half-day program are stimulating their peers back home with tales of new equipment, collaborations with scientists at Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven labs, and carrying around iPads all day. The district expects to increase the number of students it sends and now has all eighth-graders taking the high school-level Regents course Living Environment to widen the pool of potential candidates. Hicksville, which chose five students to send from a lottery of more than 20, hopes to continue that commitment in each subsequent grade.

In marketing the school, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services should trumpet that 10 of its 23 students are girls; that's the demographic that needs to be made aware of these opportunities.

Expanding the program to other Nassau districts, especially those lacking top-flight science and math programs, is critical. Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on New York's Board of Regents, suggests the state leverage its involvement with districts that have schools on the state's list of lowest academic performers to persuade them to send students to the STEM school as part of their corrective plan. It's an idea that should be embraced.

Some districts are concerned about the cost, but it's a bargain. A $1-million grant from Hicksville entrepreneurs Leena and Nitin Doshi, who own a chain of radiology centers, has reduced yearly tuition to $7,400 per student. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a strong supporter of STEM education, has committed to work closely with Nassau BOCES to find federal dollars that might further reduce costs to districts.

Under current pricing, a school district could send five students from each of its four grades for $148,000 a year, plus the cost of busing. Surely that money can be found in budgets that often are in the tens of millions of dollars -- and sometimes more than $100 million.

If we really are concerned about making our kids more proficient in science and math and burnishing Long Island's reputation for providing top-flight education, that's a wise investment.

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