Virginia will receive a $10.8 million, five-year federal grant for enhanced teacher training in science, technology and related fields, state officials announced last week.
Nonprofit education organization Virginia Ed Strategies secured the grant, one of seven issued this year by the Department of Education. The project was selected from a field of more than 140 nationwide applicants and focuses on teachers in rural areas who teach STEM+C [science, technology, engineering, math and computers].
Gov. Ralph Northam, state Superintendent James Lane, Virginia Ed Strategies CEO Jennifer Stevens and Bristol Virginia Superintendent Keith Perrigan, who serves as president of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools of Virginia, participated in the announcement at Mecklenburg County Schools in rural Boydton.
The governor termed the grant “a big deal” while touting the state’s business climate, despite a year of COVID-19-inspired restrictions.
“The reason we’re doing so well economically is because of our talented workforce. We need to keep that going, we need to continue to train our children for the 21st century jobs,” Northam said. “Things like cyber security, unmanned aerial systems, computer technology, data collection, data analysis — that’s what we need to train our children for if we’re going to keep our economy vibrant and strong.”
Northam appeared on the program wearing a Virginia High Bearcat mask, provided by Perrigan.
Lane called the state’s teachers “heroes” for their work during the pandemic.
“This opportunity not only provides them the opportunities to be trained in STEM fields, but the notion of choice and trusting our teachers to choose the opportunities where they need to learn best is what really makes this opportunity special,” Lane said. “Two thousand teachers will benefit from this. That’s an incredible impact we’re going to have on our workforce. … The best-paying jobs are going to be in STEM fields, and Virginia needs to stay ahead of that so we can make sure our graduates have great opportunities after high school and after college.”
Perrigan said the program is expected to roll out this spring so teachers can participate before classes resume this fall.
“The key is, instead of teachers having professional development shoved down their throat, they are going to have a choice in the professional development they think they need to be effective in our new instructional environment,” Perrigan said after the announcement. “The Department of Education has agreed to provide the flexibility so teachers can take advantage of these opportunities.”
Divisions will also work with teachers to accommodate training events, Perrigan said.
“For the next five years, teachers in STEM areas, especially rural areas, are going to have much better access to the training they need,” Perrigan said.
It will also save individual divisions money normally budgeted for required staff development, Perrigan said.
Stevens said teachers can select options from an online dashboard.
“A customized online dashboard allows teachers to self-select the learning experiences that best meet their individual needs,” Stevens said. “Grant funds will pay for the training selected by teachers as well as any associated costs such as travel or materials. The professional learning chosen by teachers will replace 100% of the training required under school division contracts during the time teachers participate in the project and will count toward their license renewal.”