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Board talks STEM
Pipeline teaches more kids about STEM careers

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Henry County School Board on Thursday approved a request for waiver of Labor Day opening requirements because of an “innovative program” planned locally.

The Henry County/Martinsville STEM Pipeline Initiative will provide opportunities for students at all levels of schooling to learn more about career opportunities in STEM-related fields, according to a program description. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The program is designed so that the Henry County and Martinsvile school divisions can work in collaboration with Patrick Henry Community College, New College Institute (NCI) and the Piedmont Governor’s School for Math, Science and Technology to prepare students for careers in high-demand fields such as advanced manufacturing (engineering), information technology and health care, according to the description.

Some of the program’s components already are in place, and new components would be added, mainly for grades two, five, six and eight, said Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton.

The description says: “Students will be exposed to STEM-related careers as early as second grade through the STEM Mobile Learning Lab that is provided through The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville. When students enter grades five and six, they participate in at least two inquiry-based learning labs at NCI throughout the school year.”

There’s career exploration through career development program areas at PHCC for seventh-grade students, the description states.

It adds: “Students in grade eight will be involved in career internships through (PHCC’s) Artisan Center, the local business community and ... (NCI). Students in grades nine and 10 will be eligible to participate in Project Lead the Way (PLTW) or Warrior Tech Academy, which are STEM-related programs. Students in grades 10 through 12 will be eligible to participate in the Advanced Engineering and Technology Academy (AET) at the New College Institute (taught by professors from Virginia State University) or Dual Enrollment Courses through (PHCC).”

The description also states: “Students will have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree from PHCC through the Accelerated College Education (ACE) Academy or an Information Technology Certification through the IT Academy at PHCC. Many of the Career and Technical (CTE) courses that are not available at the local high schools are offered through PHCC. Regardless of which program a student selects, he or she will have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or a CTE certification that will prepare them for post-secondary work and/or a promising career after high school.”

The new components of the program, which would start in August, are the STEM Mobile Learning Lab for grade two, STEM Labs at NCI for grades five and six, and the internships and expanded college visits for grade eight, according to the program description.

Cotton said he believes the initiative will benefit students regardless of which career field they ultimately pursue, whether STEM or not, because there is an emphasis on developing critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication.

The Henry County School Board approved Thursday the request for waiver of Labor Day opening requirements and the Henry County/Martinsville STEM Pipeline Initiative innovative program, and the request will go to the Virginia Department of Education.

If VDOE does not approve the request for waiver of Labor Day opening requirements, parts of the initiative could not be implemented, Cotton said, because the school divisions’ schedules are aligned with those of PHCC, NCI and the Governor’s School.

To start school before Labor Day, a school division must apply to the Virginia Department of Education, according to school board documents. The Henry County School Division has received waivers to start school before Labor Day since 2001-2 based on the number of days missed due to inclement weather. The school division no longer qualifies for that because of milder winters, Cotton said.

Among other business Thursday, the school board held a budget work session. For the current FY2014 budget, enrollment is down slightly based on the Sept. 30, 2013, projected enrollment. The FY2014 budget is based on enrollment of 7,064.2 students, but the Sept. 30, 2013, enrollment as reported to the Virginia Department of Education was 7,013 students, according to a board document.

It added: “Governor’s budget released (on Dec. 16, 2013) indicates an increase from the state in our approved budget of $43,908,705 for FY 2014 to $45,648,202, an overall increase of $1,739,497. For FY2014 we had an additional appropriation of $541,164 to our budget for the 2% raise (for all staff), which began (Jan. 1, 2014). This would bring our overall increase in revenues from the state down to $1,198,333.”

According to the document and school division officials, the school division is monitoring whether there will be further sequestration cuts; retirement costs have increased for FY2015; and the rate for health insurance premiums should be known by late January.

The document also cited “continued increase in utility costs and instability of fuel costs” and “continued challenge to find funding to meet our increasing capital needs.”


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