Science, Technology Education Gets Boost

By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Arlington County public schools will receive a grant that will establish one of Virginia's first Governor's Career and Technical Academies, an initiative that aims to raise the profile of science and technology in career education.

"It gives us another avenue to help educate students," said Frank Bellavia, a spokesman for Arlington Public Schools. "Science and technology is a big part of the 21st century, and this will help students transition into careers in those fields."

The goal of the grants, announced this month by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's office, is to align instruction in science, technology, engineering and math with the needs of the modern workplace and secondary education, so students learn the skills that high-demand and high-wage careers require.

Each of the six school systems receiving the grants will get $20,000 for planning and $100,000 to implement the proposal once it is approved by the Virginia Board of Education and the State Council of Higher Education. Plans must be submitted by May 1. The academies are expected to be up and running for the 2008-09 school year.

Arlington Superintendent Robert G. Smith has proposed that the Arlington Career Center be reconceived as a technical academy with the help of the grant. The new program would focus on integrating science and technology in five areas: automotive, digital media, information technology, emergency medical services and engineering.

All the courses currently offered at the Career Center will be offered next fall, but some of the approaches used will shift. When the time comes to refurbish the center, the project will be done keeping in mind the new emphasis on technology.

"It was a really great opportunity, the way the grant was structured," said Mark Johnston, assistant superintendent for education for the Arlington public school system. "It really captured where we had been in our interest and work in this area and this kind of approach."

To apply for the grant, Johnston said, the school system worked with higher education groups and local organizations, which will also help see the program through. They focused on students and teachers, highlighting, among other priorities, the need to help students move from high school to higher education and to improve teacher training.

The grant dovetailed with approaches that Arlington schools officials were pursuing, Johnston said.

"What it does is, it provides us an opportunity to bring structure and rigor to that," he said. "We have these pathways developed . . . and [this] provides some resources to carry us forward."

Johnston said that courses will be more closely aligned with college courses and that some teachers will be trained by college professors. Professors could even come in to teach high school classes, he said.

Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Kaine, said the technical academies are an attempt to satisfy a need.

"When he goes out into the community, he hears from business leaders, and they want a skilled workforce," Hickey said of the governor. "And we needed to give the title, cachet and weight of governor's schools to some of the more technical skills that are equally important."

The six grant recipients were chosen from 22 applications. The other programs funded are the Agricultural Science Academy in Halifax County; the Governor's Academy for Innovation, Technology and Engineering in Newport News; Fostering Innovation and Relevance Through STEM and Trades in Suffolk; Pathways Academy of Russell County; and Stafford Career and Technical Academies in Stafford County.

The money comes from $500,000 grants awarded to six states in July by the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices. The grants were supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Intel Foundation, and Virginia provided matching funds. Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania also received grants.

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