Meridian schools explore STEM-based plan

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The Meridian Public School District is exploring the implementation of a program called "Star Academy," which taps STEM activities in an attempt to strengthen graduation rates. 

The Meridian Public School District is exploring a way to engage high school students and to facilitate graduation through hands-on learning.

The Board of Education approved the acceptance of a grant — contingent upon contract review — to implement a technology-based, hands-on program designed to reach students who have hit some obstacles in their past years of schooling. Board members voted unanimously in favor of the plan, pending legal review, at Monday evening's regular meeting.

John Taylor, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum, said that the program is called the Star Academy and that it comes with a grant of $1 million for a three-year term. He said the district’s application has already been accepted.

“It’s designed to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) approach to dropout prevention,” Taylor said. “The program extends itself to those students who have disengaged or who otherwise would be potential dropouts."

Taylor said the grant has emerged from a partnership between an education company called Pitsco and the state of Mississippi.

Taylor noted plans to implement the program in the district’s Freshman Academy. One key goal of the program, he said, would be to help students who have lost ground catch up to their grade levels. He said the program contains four classes: math, science, English Language Arts and social studies.

“The program comes equipped with all of the furniture, all of the resources, all of the hands-on materials, the robotics, the engineering-based activities,” he said. “In addition to that, teachers are trained on how to use this content … “

Taylor said Shevonda Truman, the principal of the Freshman Academy, has assembled a team of teachers to work with the program.

The content of the courses will meet Mississippi’s College and Career-Readiness Standards, Taylor said. Those are the standards school districts are required by the state to follow.

“It’s the delivery that’s going to be so engaging,” he said. “It’s the hands-on approach. I wish we could get more of our students in classes where they actually do what they learn.”

Taylor listed several requirements for participating — requirements that included parental involvement in the process.

Gary Houston, president of the school district’s board of education, praised the plan and said that he that he hopes participating students "would really understand the impact this could have for them.”

Taylor said the program could reach about 80 students each year, beginning as soon as next semester.

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