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Local school districts snag grants for science, technology, engineering, math

Six local school districts hope to engage students in math and science through recent grants from the Virginia Department of Education.

Sue Jenkins, Culpeper instructional specialist for mathematics and science, said her division applied for two science grants to access more hands-on instruction.

“We are hoping teachers bring back new methods for teaching science concepts,” she said. “We are always looking for ways to improve SOL scores and make students more engaged.”

The mathematics and science partnership grants were awarded this week to Fauquier, Culpeper, Spotsylvania, Louisa and King George counties and Colonial Beach. The grants aim at supporting STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The program is designed to boost students’ academic achievement in mathematics and science by giving training to teachers. And K–12 teachers will benefit from partnerships with STEM faculty at Virginia colleges and universities, said VDOE.

The grants are earmarked for specific colleges to offer these resources to schools that are designated as “high-need” because of low math or science scores and a need for teacher development. That professional development focus supports the increased rigor of the 2009 mathematics Standards of Learning and the 2010 science SOL.

Greg Dorazio, spokesman for Louisa County Schools, said the program “is exactly the kind of opportunity we’re looking for.”

Louisa is currently making a push for STEM education, and the division is hoping to launch a STEM academy for K–12 students during the next school year.

Ten Virginia higher education institutions have partnered with the program, and the awarded grants total more than $2.1 million statewide.

Fauquier County topped local school districts in awards, participating in five of the grant programs.

Two of the grants will help teachers better teach to the increased rigor on the math SOL and provide a partnership with George Mason University.

The division also will partner with the University of Virginia to help teachers integrate math and science in classrooms and James Madison University to help teachers with modeling instruction.

The last of the five grant programs Fauquier is participating in is with GMU for science help.

Culpeper, King George and Spotsylvania counties also were awarded spots with JMU for modeling instruction.

Additionally, Culpeper will collaborate with U.Va., aiming at enhancing teacher understanding of electricity, magnetism and light. Louisa County Schools will join the same program.

Jenkins said teachers from Culpeper County have attended similar, university-led courses in the past and found the materials and techniques learned helpful.

Jan Streich, director of professional learning and instructional technology in Spotsylvania Schools, said teachers in Spotsylvania have also found content teaching academies at universities helpful.

“The benefit of the university experience is that it allows collaboration and networking across the state for science teachers,” she said.

Colonial Beach Schools will join the grant program to improve K–12 math achievement in collaboration with the College of William & Mary.

School divisions, and the partner higher education institutions, began applying for the grants in August, when VDOE announced the project.

Increased rigor on science and math SOLs in recent years have affected state-wide pass rates for the test.

In science, 81 percent passed their grade-level or end-of-course tests in 2013.

Seventy-one percent of students passed the math assessments on the SOL in the 2012–2013 school year, compared with 68 percent the year before.

Most schools in the Fredericksburg area mirrored state results in 2013, with Fredericksburg and the counties of Louisa, Orange, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Westmoreland, Culpeper, Caroline and Fauquier all reporting a gain in mathematics scores and a decline in reading and science.

 Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

 

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