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STEM Initiative Shows Promise in Rural Schools

A proposal turned down for federal Investing in Innovation funding is showing promising first-year results after a scaled-down version was implemented in six rural schools.

The Rural School and Community Trust, a nonprofit rural education advocacy group, decided to cover the roughly $185,000 cost for a small group of North Carolina and Louisiana schools to try the STEM Students and Teachers Achieving Reform program.

The program is based on a model developed by the nonprofit GenerationYES. It gives professional development training to a a small group of hand-picked students, dubbed Student STEM Leaders, and teachers, which is particularly important for rural schools that often struggle to give students technology access.

The Rural Trust funding included an evaluation of the program's first year, which was 2011-12.

The goal was for Student STEM Leaders to learn technology skills and work with teachers and their classmates to integrate those in learning and instruction. All freshmen were assigned two major STEM STAR science projects aligned to state standards.

The program's overall evaluation was good. Teachers and Student STEM Leaders felt the initial training workshops did a good job of preparing them for the upcoming school year, and both gave positive feedback about its influence on teaching and learning.

Still, only some freshmen completed the second science project, and many teachers struggled to keep the program's Student STEM Leaders involved because they no longer were in those teachers' classes.

Some future recommendations included developing solutions to mid-year changes in courses (those caused Student STEM Leaders to lose contact with teachers), and a mid-year "booster shot" of professional development to reacquaint teachers them with the program and share strategies.

All of the involved schools plan to continue the project this school year and expand the model to other science classes in other grades. Three additional rural Vermont schools also plan to implement the program this year.

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