IDEA awarded $2.6M in fed funds for STEM

IDEA Public Schools plans to improve educational quality in the scientific and technical fields across its campuses through federal funds.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded $2.6 million grant to IDEA Public Schools through the Education Innovation and Research program. The U.S. Department of Education announced about $123 million awarded to 41 school districts nationwide, with IDEA Public Schools being one of two entities in Texas to receive the grant, according to a news release.

These funds will be used for the Mathways to STEM Success, which promotes science, technology, engineering and math to serve over 43,000 high-need students in grades 6-12 by the end of the five-year grant period, according to the news release.

This includes designing the curriculum and training teachers in their instruction, Chief Advancement Officer Sam Goessling said. Increasing enrollment in Advanced Placement computer science courses, and improving math education are part of its goals. Administrators will also focus on a work-study program for students to further their skills and work with tech companies, he said.

“We see this as… where the nation is heading, and where Texas and the Rio Grande Valley is having in terms of job opportunities and we wanted to make sure that our students (were) well-equipped to pursue those opportunities,” Goessling said.

Over the grant’s five-year period, getting Advanced Placement computer science courses to all high schools is a major goal, he said.

The grant would also allow them to look where to “embed” computer science into the math curriculum. When making that curriculum they take into account multiple standards, including preparation to meet state exams and preparation for college, he said.

“The funding would allow us to grow the computer science program and also to improve our math curriculum, by including some computer science standards within our math curriculum,” Goessling said.

Early-phase, mid-phase and expansion are all of the types of grants that fall under the Education Innovation and Research program. IDEA Public Schools’ grant falls under the first category, according to the news release.

The open-enrollment charter operates schools across Texas including Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso among others and in Louisiana.

“IDEA Public Schools is thrilled to have received the Education Innovation and Research grant. In 2015, only 3.3% of all bachelor’s degrees earned were in Computer and Information Sciences,” JoAnn Gama said in a news release; she’s the co-founder, president and superintendent of IDEA Public Schools. “STEM is a part of our future, but the present pipeline is insufficient to meet the workforce demand.”

Accessibility and becoming a model are possible outcomes of the grant. Seniors in the Valley will be the first to access the curriculum as they are the majority of seniors, Goessling said.

The open-enrollment charter may hire about 20 teachers across the Valley to teach computer science. The grant won’t support these salaries but is a “catalyst” for building the computer science program, he said.

“The Rio Grande Valley will really lead the way for the rest of the state and the rest of the country in terms of execution and implementation of this grant,” Goessling said.