Highland recently applied to participate in the program that emphasizes STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- education, as the Department of Education expands to include 15 school districts and one technical center in the 2012-13 school year.
The STEM Works program, announced by Gov. Mike Beebe in August, seeks to educate more students in fields that have the greatest need for qualified workers, and have the greatest potential to enhance the state's economy. The program will focus less on a lecture based classroom type of learning to project based learning, utilizing technology with which many students are already familiar.
Each district will participate in either "Project Lead the Way," which focuses on engineering and biomedical sciences, or the "New Tech Network," which incorporates all of the STEM subjects.
Both use project-based learning to show students how concepts learned in the classroom apply in the workplace.
Highland will become a New Tech School, along with Arkadelphia, Dumas, El Dorado, Hope, Marked Tree, Riverview, Russellville and Van Buren school districts.
"Our goal was to have 10 STEM Works schools for the 2012-2013 school year, and we've surpassed that," state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said Jan. 11. "We'll all work together to make sure these schools are successful and can be models for schools seeking to participate in the future."
Gov. Mike Beebe said he was proud that a diverse range of schools applied for the program.
"In Arkansas, education and economic development must work hand in hand to build the strong work force so important to our state's future prosperity," Beebe said. "These schools will be leaders in this work."
The Governor's Workforce Cabinet selected the participating districts and is funding the program. Each of the newly selected New Tech districts will receive $150,000.
The Workforce Cabinet includes the governor's office, the Department of Education, the Department of Career Education, the Department of Higher Education, the Department of Workforce Services, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority and the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges.
The founder of the STEM-Works program is Dr. Delores M. Etter--an engineer, scientist and innovative leader.
Etter is the director of SMU's new Caruth Institute for Engineering Education and the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Engineering Education.
As part of the new Caruth Hall at SMU, she is responsible for the Innovation Gymnasium where students will learn through hands-on activities how to be future innovators.
Her many initiatives are aimed at ensuring all young people are able to have fun, interesting and challenging experiences in classes of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Highland Superintendent James Floyd said the grant will help fund the staff attending week long training sessions in the summer to instruct the students in the transition in the fall semester.
"The announcement comes at a time when both the grant's funds and expertise from the program will help prepare students for the future." Floyd said
The program deals with not only the academic skills but also the importance of finding information and using decision making skills as well as teamwork. "It should give our kids a real headstart as they set the path for others that will follow."
Floyd said the program will begin in grades 8-9 and as the students learn from those grades, it will further to tenth grade and as they move, it will move with them, giving the staff time to be fully trained.
Teachers will also be able to utilize the predeveloped software and assistance for lesson planning and grading from the established program.
"It is very exciting, this provides a mechanism for them to learn the skills they are going to need in the future." the superintendent said.