Groton Schools awarded grant for STEM, college and career readiness

Groton — The Groton school district will get a boost to its STEM and college and career readiness programs, thanks to a federal grant announced this past week.

The $750,000 Department of Defense Education Activity grant awarded to Groton Public Schools will provide funding over five years for outdoor STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs for elementary students; professional development for elementary and high school science teachers; and an International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme at Robert E. Fitch High School, according to the grant announcement.

"We're very excited," Superintendent Michael Graner said Friday. This is the third major DoDEA grant the Groton school district has been awarded over the past four years.

Graner said STEM is important, given the job market and trends, and the school district is seeing interest from both parents and students in those fields as highly desirable topics of study.

"We knew that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics really are highly attractive to students, so we thought by providing high rigor and good quality, it would really help our kids," he said.

This year, Groton's middle schools transformed into the intradistrict magnet schools of West Side STEM Magnet Middle School and Cutler Arts & Humanities Magnet Middle School, and the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme was implemented for grades six through 10, as a result of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The new Department of Defense grant will focus on elementary and high school students.

The grant will provide outdoor STEM enrichment programs for elementary students during the school year, as well as summer programs, Graner said.

An outdoor STEM classroom is proposed where instructors can teach students about topics from erosion to the water collection system, and students can get outside and get their hands dirty and explore, said Dr. Charles Barnum Elementary School Principal Seth Danner, who proposed the idea.

Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin said the school district wants students to really dig into the material they are learning and understand that their ideas matter: "Our real goal is to have kids take on their own learning and be responsible for their learning," she said.

The grant will provide training for both elementary and high school science teachers, along with supplies, books and equipment, in the Next Generation Science Standards, which the state has adopted, Graner said.

IB Career-related Programme at Fitch

An International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme at Fitch High School that will enable students to earn certificates in engineering, business, culinary arts and nursing is the third major component of the grant, Graner said. The grant also will enable the Project Lead the Way program to be expanded.

The district is applying this year to the IB Career-related Programme, as well as training teachers, and plans to offer courses in the program next year, he said.

Graner said a goal of many college-bound students is to receive a diploma from the academically oriented and rigorous International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme that Fitch has long offered but he and the school board also wanted to provide more opportunities for students preparing to enter the military or work.

In a statement announcing the grant for Groton schools, U.S. Rep Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said it "will go a long way to bolster their already impressive STEM education initiatives.”

“Department of Defense dollars are particularly important for towns like Groton where the school system serves a large number of military families," he said in the statement. "Because military families who live on base do not pay local taxes, schools rely on the federal government for additional funding. I have been a strong supporter of federal support for school districts like Groton and Ledyard to make sure the children of military service members are provided with quality public education, while not forcing local communities to pay the bill.” 

k.drelich@theday.com

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