Governor’s STEM Academy opens at Burton Center for Arts and Technology
VINTON–A host of state and local dignitaries were on hand for the opening of the new Roanoke County Governor’s STEM Academy located at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) on September 17.
Dr. Patricia Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction in Virginia and Javaid Siddiqi, Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Education, came from Richmond to show their support.
The purpose of the new program is to “provide students with the 21st century technological skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and in the world of work through authentic, rigorous, project-based learning.” Students are engaged in valuable hands-on experience not usually found in traditional classrooms.
“Roanoke County Schools are again on cutting edge of education,” said Fuzzy Minnix, representative to the School Board from the Cave Spring District. “We owe our success to our Board of Supervisors, who are always looking for a better way to educate students; to Dr. Lorraine Lange, who is a Superintendent well ahead of most others in the United states; and to staff down the line whose goal is the very best education for Roanoke County students.”
The program at Burton emphasizes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics studies (hence the name STEM), which will prepare students for high-demand, high-wage, and high-skill careers that meet the work force needs locally and throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as in national and global markets.
“STEM provides pathways to students seeking two year associate degrees, four year college degrees and trade school degrees, as well as direct entry into the workforce after high school,” said Jason Suhr, principal at Burton.
In May, the Virginia Board of Education approved the establishment of the Burton program. There are currently fifteen STEM programs across the state. The particular programs differ in each locality. Each academy is a partnership among school divisions, postsecondary institutions, business, and industry.
“The composition of each STEM program varies depending upon the work force needs of each community,” said Wright. “Agricultural areas in eastern Virginia include programs focusing on agricultural sciences; other regions add health science programs. That’s why we partner with businesses in the community to determine what the needs are in each region.”
The STEM Academy at Burton consists of four programs: Engineering, Mass Communications, Motor Sports, and Mechatronics/Robotics. Partners for their program include Virginia Western Community College, Virginia Tech, the Roanoke Regional Partnership, and numerous local businesses and industries.
These business and higher education partnerships are recognized as the cornerstone of the STEM programs, providing guidance and direction, as well as opportunities for internships, mentorships, job shadowing, and cooperative education.
The STEM Academy has the capacity to enroll 226 students in grades 9-12 during the 2012-13 school year with 201 currently enrolled.
Roanoke County Schools hopes the STEM program will allow them to increase the number of dual enrollment courses completed, to increase high school graduation rates, and to give students the chance to earn industry certifications which allow them to be more competitive in the work force and when applying to advanced training schools or colleges.
Last spring all 8th graders in the County were presented with STEM program information and toured the facility. Interested students completed applications, wrote essays, and provided documentation of their past work.
Students from the five County high schools who were accepted into the program spend about three hours each day on an alternating day block schedule at Burton, coordinating schedules with their base school. Transportation from each school is provided by the school system.
Guests on September 17 were given a tour of the facility; program directors, teachers, and students were on hand to describe their programs.
Haley Blair, at freshman at William Byrd High School, is enrolled in the engineering curriculum and wants to become a civil engineer. She chose STEM because of the extra credits students can earn.
“You get to focus on engineering and start learning it right now,” said Blair.
Cameron Jones from Hidden Valley High School is also a freshman in the Engineering program.
“I like the hands-on projects rather than just working on paper like you do in most classes,” said Jones.
Tom Conroy is a freshman at Cave Spring High School, enrolled in the Engineering program. “I’m not sure what I want to do after high school, but this program will help me make a choice,” said Conroy. “It’s very unique and something that other schools don’t have.”
Shaffer Kelly, a junior at William Byrd High School, is enrolled in the STEM Motorsports program. At Burton he is currently involved in rebuilding a 1969 Gran Torino, a tribute car for race car driver, Wendell Scott of Danville, the first African American to win a race in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
“I want to be a diesel mechanic in the Marines,” said Kelly. “I have always been interested in cars and horsepower. Nowhere else has a program like this.”
Dan Hughes of Graham-White Manufacturing Co. in Salem, chairman of the Burton Center for Arts and Technology Advisory Committee, applauded the STEM program.
“Over the years our company has reaped the benefits of partnering with the Burton Center by hiring graduates with work readiness skills, which will only increase with the new program,” said Hughes.