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Middle, high school to benefit from $3 million ‘i3’ grant

Virginia Advanced Study Strategies, Inc., a non-profit organization that partners with schools to develop advanced programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), has won a nearly $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen math instruction and improve student outcomes at middle and high schools in rural Virginia including Halifax County.

The grant is one of 20 “Investing in Innovation” (i3) grants the Department of Education awards to organizations nationwide working to improve student achievement.

Virginia Advanced Study Strategies, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in South Boston, supports STEM education through its Rural Math Excel Partnership, a program that enhances STEM training for teachers and communicates the value of STEM to parents and communities. 

For Halifax it is the second program related to an Department of Education “i3” grant. The first is the program currently in progress with Old Dominion University.

Virginia Advanced Study Strategies works very closely with Old Dominion University, and these two grants will work together to help the schools' focus on math needs, according to Paul Nichols, executive director of Virginia Advanced Study Strategies.

“While the Department of Education funds will support the implementation of the Rural Math Excel Partnership in Halifax  and six other counties, the program

is one that will easily "scale up" to other schools. VASS is seeking business partnership support for implementation of this program in other schools state-wide,” Nichols added.

According to the Director of Workforce Development at the Virginia Manufacturers Association, Katherine DeRosear, there is a skills gap of 11,000 people per year in Virginia’s top 10 manufacturing occupations – the greatest demand being for manufacturing technicians.

Rural Math Excel Partnership enrolls teachers in special training courses designed to sharpen STEM instruction techniques and introduce new resources. Additionally, the program engages parents in supporting STEM academics – at home and at school. 

A study published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education demonstrates that parental support of students positively affects academic performance, equipping students with the foundational math skills needed for at least technician-level STEM-related careers.

“Technical occupations are among the fastest growing job fields in America. Traditional, blue-collar, rural communities need students capable of pursuing technical-level and higher career choices,” said Nichols. “Our program will help close the gap by engaging whole families in the student’s pursuit of advanced math studies.”

With the “i3” grant, Virginia Advanced Study Strategies will support Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry students in seven rural Virginia middle schools and seven high schools including Charlotte County Middle and High Schools, Cumberland County Middle and High Schools, Halifax County Middle and High Schools, Henry County Middle and High Schools (two of each),Martinsville City Middle and High School and Prince Edward County Middle and High School.

The grant will support these math students by:

1. Preparing all teachers to supplement lessons with online resources, such as Khan Academy or TED-ED instructional videos.

2. Engaging family members of at least 90 percent of students in supporting student completion of Internet-based videos as math homework.

3. Coordinating community-based organizations to conduct at least one major STEM career event, such as “math open houses” for students and their families.

Over the past five years, Virginia Advanced Study Strategies has partnered with 73 Virginia schools to increase teacher effectiveness and student achievement in rigorous math and science courses by offering pre-AP and AP teacher training, student support and student and teacher financial incentives. 

After two years in the project, one cohort of schools achieved more than a 143 percent increase in math, science and English qualifying scores (score of 3, 4 or 5) on AP exams, compared to a 97 percent increase achieved by National Math and Science Institute schools overall.

Virginia Advanced Study Strategies will work with a third-party evaluator to document the Department of Education grant’s implementation and to measure its effect on STEM outcomes in rural areas of Virginia.

“Too often during recruitment, we’re finding that individuals lack the critical math and science skills needed for the jobs we have available,” said DeRosear. “Virginia Advanced Study Strategies is helping to build the foundation that tomorrow’s workforce will need for 21stcentury jobs.”