Beaufort County Schools Get $12.8M Grant for Tech Programs

With money from the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, four schools in the South Carolina county will try to attract students in fields such as cybersecurity, computer science and network engineering.

A diagram showing the different branches of STEM study.
(TNS) — Seven Beaufort County schools are getting new science and technology programs in 2022-23 thanks to a nearly $13 million federal grant, district officials announced.

The district was chosen by the U.S. Department of Education to receive $12.8 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant, which will be distributed over the next five years.

Students from across the county will be able to apply to attend these schools through the district's school choice system to participate in the magnet programs, Chief Instructional Services Officer Mary Stratos said Thursday.

The Whale Branch cluster — Whale Branch Elementary, Whale Branch Middle and Whale Branch Early College High — will have a technology magnet theme, with specialized cybersecurity, computer science, and network engineering academies, according to a district press release.

The Beaufort cluster — Mossy Oaks Elementary, Lady's Island Middle, Beaufort Middle and Beaufort High — will have a medical magnet theme, with specialized pre-med and biomedical science academies.

Stratos said that the magnet programs will be represented through "arts integration."

She used the Beaufort school cluster as an example. "If we're doing reading in an (English language arts) class, maybe we're pulling something on bionics or cardiovascular and heart," she said.

That arts integration will be available at all school levels in both clusters, and then students will have the option to take magnet-specific courses that work very closely with career and technical education, starting in middle school. Those classes will feed into the high school programs, she said.

Schools will also work with community partners, including the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce and Beaufort Memorial Hospital, to provide this curriculum.

More than 20 community partners signed on during the grant application process, and the district is still growing its partnership program, Stratos said.

The DOE describes the grant program as targeted to prevent the isolation of minority students, and to strengthen students' grasps on "tangible and marketable vocational skills."

The first step of the grant application process, which began in May 2020, was an economic survey of the area to see what job opportunities were available for programs that interested students.

"The underlying theme is, what are we doing for our children after graduation?" Stratos said. "We are responsible to provide that opportunity for children. Our relationship doesn't stop when you cross that stage."

In the coming days, the district will begin hiring a project director and curriculum support personnel, and will hire experienced teachers for the new courses in the second phase of its year-long planning phase.

The district can't use grant funds for capital improvements or for upgrades to school buildings, Stratos said.

The district will partner with Project Lead the Way and the Southern Regional Education Board to create some of the magnet programs' courses, while other lessons will be created by the school district with the intent to sustain and replicate the program past the lifespan of the grant, Stratos said.

"I am very proud and thankful to everyone at BCSD who worked on this grant proposal and made this award a reality," Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said in a press release. "I can't wait to see the impact these magnet programs are going to have on our students' academic pursuits, and ultimately their futures."

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