$1 Million Investment in STEM could Prepare Next Generation Work Force

Education

There are hundreds of open tech jobs in West Virginia, but not enough qualified employees to fill them. So rural schools are making it a priority to expose high schoolers to STEM fields before they graduate.

The West Virginia Education Alliance and generous corporate sponsors are giving schools $15,000 each, to start a Blended Learning Program. Seven schools from across the state met at George Washington High School to learn how to make their ideas a reality.

Toni Burks wishes her son had 3D printers and computer science classes when he was in high school. The lack of exposure meant he didn’t discover his passion for computer coding until three years into college.

“That would have saved us a lot of money first and foremost. But I have to believe there are a lot of students that are missing incredible opportunities because they didn’t know they existed,” Ravenswood teacher Toni Burks told 13 News.

Burks wants to make sure no student graduates Ravenswood High School without exposure to some sort of STEM field. So she and other teachers got involved with the Blended Learning Program.

“The training today is really enabling them to create a Makerspace. So we’re in a Makerspace here at George Washington H.S. They get to see what that looks like, and they’re having some professional development about that,” Education Alliance President/CEO Amelia Courts explained.

Education Alliance staff walked teachers through the process of developing a room where students can learn hands-on, with everything from laser cutters to robotics kids to wood shops. Burks says they’ve tried these types of projects and had major success.

“We were using the technology, we were learning our programming, project-based learning/hands-on learning. Not just sitting at a keyboard typing,” Burks added.

Teachers will also create a Blended Learning course combining in-class and online learning.

“Almost every college student now takes a blended learning, or an online course. We want our high school students to be prepared for success in college and we want our teachers to really be able to tap into the digital resources,” Courts told 13 News.

These Makerspaces would be available to every student at the school and even open after hours for other community members to use.

“As we prepare our students to compete in today’s global workforce, it is critical we continue to engage students by providing increased access to science, technology, engineering and math learning opportunities,” Dr. Courts said.

The Blended Learning program is made possible by the BelleJAR Foundation, the Chevron Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the Ross Foundation.

The following schools plan to have their Blended Learning Program started by the fall:

Doddridge County High School, Doddridge County

Ravenswood High School, Jackson County

Lincoln County High School, Lincoln County

Logan County High School, Logan County

Man High School, Logan County

Ritchie County High School, Ritchie County

Tug Valley High School, Mingo County

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