A grant award of more than a half-million dollars from the Golden Leaf Foundation will allow LCPS to equip three middle schools with labs geared to giving students a hands-on introduction to technology-based careers.
Students will be learning in the new Career Pathways STEM labs at Rochelle and Frink middle schools and Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School as early as January.
The $515,000 grant announced at the Monday meeting of the Lenoir County Board of Education will allow LCPS to increase its emphasis on STEM skills – those related to science, technology, engineering and math – throughout the middle grades. The district’s fourth middle school, Woodington, opened its STEM lab last spring thanks to a $100,000 grant from Duke Energy.
“I am very excited about our district being awarded this grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. This is a great opportunity for us to establish and develop even more mutually beneficial partnerships between LCPS and employers in the business community,” LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams said.
“The grant will support our ongoing collaborative efforts to provide additional educational and future career opportunities for all students as we strengthen current instruction with rigorous and effective STEM strategies, greater levels of career awareness for younger students, additional course scheduling flexibility and a full range of student support structures,” he said.
The Golden Leaf grant pays for computers and software students will use to guide their learning activities as well as lab design, furniture and installation, and professional development for the labs’ teachers, known as facilitators.
The Woodington STEM lab will serve as a model for the three new labs. There, guided by computer-based learning modules, students work in teams of two to gain hands-on knowledge in technical fields as diverse as mechanical engineering, robotics, architectural design, machining and microbiology. The learning stations were developed in cooperation with manufacturers in the region, according to Associate Superintendent Frances Herring.
“Educators are sitting down with employers, local manufacturers and economic developers to make sure the curriculum is being used in the STEM labs is relevant and is real,” Herring told school board members. “It gives the students the opportunity to be exposed to manufacturing jobs and engineering opportunities they might not otherwise even know existed.
“When they get to high school,” she added, “they are able to focus on something they’re interested in and make plans to attend a four-year school for an engineering program or a two-year program at a community college.
Career-oriented STEM education in middle school pairs up well with the district’s Career and Technical Education programs in high school, according to Woodington principal Patrick Phillippe.
“We’re getting our kids on board with the pathways. They’re seeing what else is out there,” he said.
In all grades, particularly through its K-12 digital learning initiative and a multi-faceted summer camp, LCPS incorporates STEM learning, which the school district sees as essential for the preparation of graduates who will compete in the global economy.
“Our overall goal is to provide the greatest possible level of preparation for our students as they move forward and experience success in their upcoming educational endeavors and in the workforce,” Williams said.
The Golden LEAF grant to LCPS is part of $4 million the foundation awarded to seven school districts in eastern North Carolina. The seven grantees – school districts in Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Greene, Pamlico, Onslow and Lenoir counties – work together with regional employers for education and economic development advancements as the STEM East Network, which is also affiliated with the NCEast Alliance and East Carolina University.
In addition to the grants to school districts, the Golden Leaf STEM East Network evaluation team was awarded approximately $175,000 to conduct a two-year evaluation of STEM education in the seven counties.
John Chaffee, NCEast Alliance president and CEO, stated, “The announcement reflects the value of having STEM East embedded within the NCEast Alliance – the importance of collaborating with educators to the benefit of students. We are ecstatic that Golden Leaf has recognized the value of our model and the long-term benefit to the economy of eastern North Carolina.”
“We appreciate very much this investment in our district and our students by the Golden Leaf Foundation and the outstanding leadership of Dan Gerlach, president of the foundation, and Mark Sorrells, its senior vice president,” Williams said. “We also want to thank our regional partners, John Chaffee, president and CEO of NCEast Alliance, and Steven Hill, director of the STEM East Network, for their hard work in making this grant a reality and for their tireless daily advocacy for our school system, our students and our overall regional community.”
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