Grant helps bring NASA curriculum to Peach County High School

jmink@macon.comOctober 29, 2012 

FORT VALLEY -- With the help of a nationwide grant, rocket science might become the norm in some Peach County High School classes.

The school’s STEM -- Science, Technology Engineering and Math -- Academy will soon teach NASA curriculum, give students hands-on robotics experience and offer field trips to universities, the Museum of Aviation and the Kennedy Space Center.

STEM already gives students rigorous science and math courses to prepare them for college and future careers. Now, the academy will take those classes a step further through the new program dubbed “Out of the Box -- STEM-Ulation for the Left and Right Brains.” The program, which kicked off Monday, is sponsored by the Fort Valley chapter of The Links Inc., a women’s volunteer service organization. The local chapter recently snagged a two-year, $20,000 grant from The Links Foundation, which wanted to use those funds to encourage more minority students to take part in STEM. The Links Foundation received a $250,000 grant from Chevron, which it split among its chapters.

“We recognized an achievement gap, typically between majority and minority students,” said Starlac McGhee, STEM committee co-chairwoman for the local chapter of The Links. “Sometimes, folks are intimidated by (the STEM Academy), and some see it as un-cool.”

McGhee and others hope the new program will change those attitudes. Teachers will soon begin training on how to incorporate NASA education curriculum into their lessons. Professors and students from Fort Valley State University will travel to the high school to show students how to create and use robotic technology. Students will learn how to write and de-bug computer programs. They will travel to career sites where people use those skills every day.

Students often ask, “Where am I going with my education? How is this relating to the world and to me,” said Anita Mathis, deputy principal of the STEM Academy at Peach County High School. “This is giving them exposure.”

This year, 87 sophomores, juniors and seniors participate in the STEM Academy, and officials hope the new program will not only give those students a boost, but will persuade others to give STEM a try. Next year, STEM officials will try to recruit freshmen, Mathis said.

“The primary goal is to try to get more students, more minority students to develop an awareness in terms of what the possibilities are,” McGhee said, “and to ... fulfill the careers that our society needs.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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