DCSD leading extraordinary STEM grant partnership

Darlington County School District leading extraordinary STEM grant partnership
Jerry Rivers

DARLINGTON, S.C. – The Darlington County School District is striving to prepare its teachers and students through a historic science- and math-based partnership between local public and private schools, backed by a federal subgrant with a three-year ceiling near $500,000.

Known as the “Mathematics and Science Partnerships” (MSP), the grant program is dedicated to comprehensively training educators to better understand and teach in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in order to increase student achievement and career preparation.

Progressive ideas from DCSD Superintendent Eddie Ingram and the Darlington County Board of Education inspired district Math and Science Coordinator Jerry Rivers to apply for the subgrant. In particular, Ingram wants to increase student skills in math and science, particularly through the use of robotics and technology.

Also, the district’s educators agree STEM is one of the top three areas of desired professional development, according to a recent, district survey. The MSP will provide teachers with an array of training conferences and forums, state-of-the-art techniques and curricula concepts, and face-to-face interaction with field-specific professionals.

“In an effort to boost STEM in Darlington County School District, we wanted to obtain this grant to get teachers what they need,” Rivers said. “We need to innovate the teachers first before we can innovate the students.”

Under the direction of Rivers, DCSD is leading the partnership that involves Francis Marion University, Florence-Darlington Technical College, S²TEM Centers SC, Florence County School District Four and Thomas Hart Academy. Rivers prepared the MSP subgrant application, and the partnership is called “TEMS for STEM.” The acronym “TEMS” stands for “Teachers Embracing Mathematics and Sciences.”

“STEM is huge. It’s bigger than us,” said Rivers, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from Clemson University. “We want to do what is best for everyone in the Darlington County School District, primarily our students, because they are the leaders of tomorrow.”

The SCDE selected the Darlington County partnership as one of 14 subgrant recipients from a pool of 19 applications. The awards range from $87,000 to $300,000 for the first year. Those awards can continue for an additional two years each based on the availability of federal funds and meeting all of the MSP program requirements.

“I appreciate Jerry and staff members like him who take the initiative to pursue funding for programs and ideas that will advance opportunities for student learning,” Ingram said. “We are excited and look forward to the skills these resources will bring to our students.”

The program will serve more than 90 educators, Rivers said, with 80 coming from DCSD. Grade levels range from kindergarten to 12th and beyond.

Objectives of the MSP grant program include:

• Encouraging institutions of higher education to assume greater responsibility in improving mathematics and science teacher education through systems of recruitment, training and advisement

• Focus on the education of mathematics and science teachers as a career-long process

• Coordinate networks between mathematics and science teachers in elementary, middle and high schools with scientists, mathematicians and engineers

• Develop more rigorous curricula that are aligned with local, state and higher education standards

• Improve and expand training for mathematics and science teachers in effective integration of technology into planning and instruction

Training began this semester and already included a seminar led by California’s 2009 Teacher of the Year, Alex Kajitani. He focused on developing professional strategies to close demographic-based achievement gaps in mathematics.

Educators in the DCSD partnership will have plenty of field study opportunities at locations such as Florence-Darlington Technical College’s Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing & Technology and the BMW manufacturing plant in Greer, South Carolina.

Additionally, the partnership will use MSP funds to pay tuition for summer, STEM-focused training courses for numerous teachers.

“These opportunities will serve as means for teachers to connect with industry settings and develop expertise in channeling education with real-world, professional expectations,” Rivers said. “Teachers will learn how to incorporate problem-based learning, so that math and science will be infused and not taught in isolation.

“All of this STEM training will prepare teachers not only with the knowledge and understanding but also with the delivery of that knowledge and understanding. It will allow us to better prepare students with the academic skills and professional, soft skills they need. Problems in the real world are not presented in purely computational form. We have to teach our students to think critically.”

In order to continue the MSP subgrant program for the DCSD partnership, the group will have to provide evidence at the end of each year of the project’s effectiveness in achieving objectives proposed in the application, rationale for funding expenditures and timely submission of high-quality reports of program progress.

The S.C. Department of Education’s (SCDE) Office of Standards and Learning administers the grant under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, Title II, Part B, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Total funding for the 2015-16 MSP grant cycle amounts to $3.3 million.

For more information, contact the DCSD Office of Communications at 843-398-2284.