PILOT MOUNTAIN — A $150,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation announced yesterday will help the Surry County Schools continue its initiative to prepare students to live in the emerging global economy.
The grant will be used to help further cutting-edge programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) throughout the school system in all grade levels, Superintendent Dr. Ashley Hinson said shortly after the announcement.
According to the superintendent, the country’s educational system is at a crossroads, and school administrators across the nation should be thinking out of the box when it comes to preparing students for the new economic paradigm.
“We aren’t simply learning anymore for the sake of learning,” he said. “We’re learning for the survival of our democracy and economy. Literally.”
Hinson said that a few years ago U.S. workers faced local competition, but in a global economy they are competing with the best, most educated people internationally.
“They aren’t waiting for us to catch up,” he said. “They’re moving forward exponentially and it worries me that we don’t have a sense of urgency in our country. Even our educational community doesn’t have that. This STEM initiative is the most pertinent initiative that I can think of that moves us in the right direction to compete with the world in the areas of science and mathematics.”
The initiative to which Hinson was referring is the reason that several dozen representatives from the community and economic development sectors joined representatives of the Golden LEAF Foundation and the North Carolina Science, Math and Technology Center at the event at Pilot Mountain Middle School.
Throughout the morning, they learned about the STEM initiatives taking place in Surry County Schools, and toured classrooms to learn how the concepts of STEM are being utilized throughout the curriculum.
As Golden LEAF Foundation Senior Vice President Mark Sorrells presented the check to Hinson and members of the board of education, he said that a total of $900,000 has been committed to the STEM initiative to be paid out over the next three years.
Spending The Money
Prior to yesterday’s funding announcement, the county had received funds from the Golden LEAF Foundation that have been used to “try to build a K-12 pipeline so that students are taught STEM skills throughout their public school career,” Jill Reinhardt, director of media, technology and career and technical education for the school system, said.
The additional funds will be used to continue to fund the initiatives, Hinson said.
Part of that effort has been to send teachers to training aimed at teaching them how to integrate math and science concepts into their individual classrooms, no matter what the subject area.
The teachers received training that taught them how to teach children how to use the concepts of science and mathematics to solve real-world problems.
“The teachers returned to their classrooms with ideas for lessons and units to help their students start using these concepts,” Reinhardt said.
In addition, part of the Golden LEAF funding was used to help fund Project Lead The Way, a nationally-recognized STEM educational program offered through Duke University that offers engineering and biomedical science programs in the classroom.
Wes Evans, a teacher with Project Lead The Way, stood in his classroom looking around at students working on computers at the middle school.
“What they’re doing right now is a group project that takes them through the steps of the design process,” he said, noting that the concepts being taught will translate directly into the real world when the students need to solve complex problems.
Through Project Lead The Way, teachers traveled to Duke University last summer and began the training that will allow them to implement even more projects in the future.
Next year, high school students will have the opportunity to take Introduction to Engineering, and the following year Principals of Engineering will be taught in the county’s high schools.
In addition, the school system is working with the North Carolina Science, Math and Technology Center to provide professional development opportunities and consulting services to help them realize their vision for STEM education in the county.
Dr. Sam Houston, president of the center, said they will provide funding for a 12-person team to travel to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington this July to attend the LASER (Leadership and Science Education Reform) Institute to learn more about teaching STEM concepts throughout the school system.
Addressing the assembled group late yesterday morning, Houston said that while he can’t see the future, he’s sure that it will focus on the concepts being addressed through STEM education.
“I don’t know what the next level of interactivity will be, but I know it will be more integrated and more technical than it is today,” he said. “We need to prepare kids for this world. We need to make sure that we’re getting kids ready for the day after graduation.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1929.