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St. Mary's Schools Receive Large STEM Grant
Leonardtown, MD - 10/11/2012
By Dick Myers
St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS) STEM program took a major step towards including all of the system’s students with the award of a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The grant announced at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, will allow the system to purchase 3,500 computer tablets for 410 science classrooms, including all elementary school classrooms.
The award to St. Mary’s County was only one of three given the maximum $2.5 million under the grant program. It was the only one awarded in Maryland. St. Mary’s was helped in getting the award by the fact it has a very large percentage of students from military-related households (6,444 or the total enrolment of 17,600).
The grant will allow the system to piggy back on its successful STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Math) pathway at Lexington Park Elementary, Spring Ridge Middle and Great Mills High. School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano said the grant would allow all students to be exposed to STEM. He said the existing STEM program would continue to be for “for highly abled students.”
The superintendent said the STEM program came into being and expanded through an initial grant from Rep. Steny Hoyer (D: 5th) and then from other grants from the contracting community and Patuxent Partnership. In all, $1.5 million has been received in grants and donations.
The three-year grant will feature the purchase of the 3,500 tablets over two years and the hiring of a STEM project coordinator and an E-Coach. Martirano admitted the challenge would be sustaining the program after the grant runs out
At the press conference Board of Education President Dr. Sal Raspa was bubbling with enthusiasm for the grant award: “What a great day. How sweet it is.” He said it would enable the system to help meet its goal of every student being “college and career ready.”
Del John Bohanan (D: 29B) said, “It is an extraordinary day.” The delegate is a staffer for Rep. Hoyer and he noted the STEM initiative began with a “Plus-up” or earmark from Hoyer that was presented at a ceremony a few years ago at Spring Ridge Middle School. He added, “The DoD is doing this (awarding the grant) out of self-interest for the DoD and their country.”
Hoyer, who was unable to attend, said in a press release, “This funding will enrich our STEM education programs, and help our students develop problem-solving and leadership skills. Investing in STEM education is critical to our nation’s ability to out-educate and out-innovate our competitors, which is why I helped secure $487,000 for the STEM Academy in St. Mary’s County in 2008 and have continued to make STEM investments a priority in the Make It In America jobs plan I’m leading in Congress.”
Several other speakers picked up on that theme. Patuxent Partnership Executive Director Bonnie Green said she was charged a few years ago by the memebrs to work on workforce development.
St. Mary’s County Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell (D) pointed to the sign on an easel that said “STEM for All” and said to him that meant “Building our own workforce.”
Gary Kessler, executive director of Naval Air Warfare Center-Aircraft Division (NAWC-AD) was a former school board member. Dr. Martirano said when Kesslet was on the board he always asked “What Next?” Kessler said he wasn’t surprised at the grant given the systems commitment to STEM. “This is critical to building the next generation workforce,” he added.
Pax River Commanding Officer Captain Ted Mills said he tells every new sailor on base, “You are part of something special.” The captain said the collaboration that led to the grant is an indication of that.
St. Mary’s County Teacher of the Year, Bernadette Sheetz, a mathematics teacher at Esperanza Middle School, said as a military spouse she had lived in seven states. She said she picked the county to live in “because of the school system.”
Dr. Martirano said the grant also has monies for additional professional development for the teachers who will be receiving the tablets in their classrooms.
The grant will be presented for approval by the school board on October 23 and to the county commissioners after that. Martirano said the goal is to implement the expanded STEM program by January 1, 2013.
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