School program teaches innovation

Published 10:18 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

By Heather McGinley

Staff Writer

Suffolk school officials are working to drum up interest in a new program designed to change the way that participating high school students learn math and science.

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Project Lead the Way is a national math and science curriculum with hands-on activities and real-world applications. It is in its infancy in Suffolk’s public schools, and administrators held an informational meeting on Monday for those students and parents with some interest in it.

“It is a program that will truly prepare students for what they will face in the real world,” Superintendent Deran R. Whitney said of Project Lead the Way. “It’s a matter of knowing where society is and what we need in terms of math and science. We are excited about it.”

The program is specially designed for dedicated students with interests in math, science, technology, and engineering. Its focus is on civil engineering and architecture.

Participants begin the program their freshman year and continue through their senior year, as long as they can maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.7 or better and complete all PLTW coursework.

Rising ninth graders zoned for any Suffolk high school may apply for one of the 24 spots available in the program. The application process includes completing the application, submitting four teacher recommendations, writing an essay, a personal interview, a parent recommendation, and signing an admissions agreement.

Upon entering the program, students will become Nansemond River High School students and will be bused to and from that school.

Administrators were excited about the level of success achieved by participants around the nation.

The program partners with at least 100 colleges and universities and with Fortune 100 and 500 companies such as Intel, General Electric, and Autodesk. According to Dawn Rountree, PLTW teacher and Robotics Club advisor, PLTW can connect students to their future colleges and employers.

Advanced courses include Intro to Engineering Design, Principals of Engineering, and Digital Electronics and take advantage of the latest technologies.

In the “Innovation Zone,” or classroom, students learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills, conduct research for real-world solutions, and learn how to patent their ideas.

In fact, students nationally have earned patents in their senior year that have been picked up by major companies, according to Rountree.

“The innovation zone is not just a classroom,” she said. “I don’t just lecture. We talk a little bit, discuss information and see how it applies to the real world.”

“Students come out of the program knowing what they want to do,” she added.

Interested students should pick up an application from their middle school guidance counselor and return their completed applications prior to Jan. 28.

The applications will be reviewed in early February, and, according to Gail Bess, coordinator of Career and Technical Education and Adult Education in Suffolk, students will find out sometime in March if they have been accepted to the program.