(Editor’s Note: Julie Oster is Director of the Academy of Information Technology at Apex High School.)

APEX, N.C. – As an educator, I’ve seen firsthand the national push for more education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The problem is that our educational system cannot keep up with the changing needs of our students.

Statistics show that as a country we’re simply not preparing our students with the skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s most promising careers. As our students fall behind, students in other developed and high-growth emerging countries leap ahead.

One topic that excites students and has them learning new things voluntarily after school is app development.

This is a way to bring the technology kids use outside the classroom inside to the learning environment.

In a first-of-its-kind program, students at Apex High School’s Academy of Information Technology are one of five schools across the country piloting a project created by the National Academy Foundation (NAF) and Lenovo to create the very kind of apps they already use on their mobile devices.

A national survey of more than 500 American students age 12-17, commissioned by Lenovo and conducted by Kelton Research in December 2011, shows that students are highly interested in mobile apps. While many use them daily and see app development as a valuable skill, they lack the confidence that they will have the technological skills needed to succeed in some of today’s most promising fields, including mobile app development.

The students surveyed use an average of 14 apps on mobile devices regularly, and 80 percent of American teens would be interested in learning how to create their own mobile app. However, only 37 percent are very confident that the technology know-how they have now is enough to secure a good job upon entering the workforce.

All you have to do is walk the halls of our schools or observe students at after school activities to see that youth today are readily using an array of technologies to communicate with each other on their time.

We’ve implemented the pilot course as a 12-week after school activity to supplement the IT courses students take during the school day. Our student teams right now are developing working wireframes, business plans and implementation schedules for an Android-based mobile application while using ThinkPad Tablets which were donated to the school by Lenovo.

Simply put, we’re helping to create the next generation of technology entrepreneurs.

Currently, we’re half way through the pilot curriculum, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with our student’s level of enthusiasm and progress to date. In fact, interest about the program has spread to other parts of our student body and has convinced us that we’d like to ultimately make this activity into a full in-school course.

The program is a complete win-win because we are not only getting our kids enthused but we’re getting them prepared with practical experience using innovative technology at a time when they’re making decisions about their future careers.

The market demand for professionals with mobile app development skills as well as business planning and strategy continues to skyrocket across the globe, and our students will be ready to take advantage of these demands because of programs like this one.

From the classroom to the boardroom to the family room, all of us have a stake in preparing today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. Encouraging a greater interest in STEM via the technology devices and the language our kids already speak just makes sense.

Any initiative that recognizes and fosters their innate interest benefits us all.