Biloxi schools nab $1 million STEM, military grant

The Biloxi School District was awarded a $1 million grant to enhance math and science education and provide more support for military families, school officials announced Wednesday.

The 5-year grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity is called Operation IMPACT, or Improving Mathematical Practices and Access to Counseling and Technology.

Biloxi was the only district in the state to receive the award this year.

The grant will target several key areas that combine a STEM focus with helping military students.

Money will be used to help close a skills gap that can develop when military children change districts frequently, sometimes missing key lessons in math and science, said Assistant Superintendent Janice Johnson.

"Closing the gap is nothing new, whether it's for military children or ELL or any other student. We always want to target the specific needs of students," Johnson said. "We also recognize that as our military children move state to state or base to base, sometimes they may miss certain skills and we want to address that."

Professional development will be provided for teachers across the district to improve all STEM instruction but especially that for military students.

The district will also provide new STEM programs and expand on existing ones, like after-school robotics clubs. This mirrors and state-wide and nationwide push to increase interest in STEM careers.

More activities throughout the school day will also help engage students with science and technology, Johnson said.

The district will also offer more counseling to military students who need help transitioning into the school and offer activities and assistance for military families.

Much of the focus on STEM and desire to help military students already existed in the district. But the $200,000 per year will go a long way to improving and expanding programs. The robotics program offered to gifted students or after-school robotics club at the junior high can expand to other schools.

The district can buy robots, tablets and other technology, Johnson said. It can host career fairs focusing on STEM jobs.

"When you're looking at the annual cost of providing professional development, the cost of the materials and the cost of funding these parent activities, $1 million doesn't go all the way. Of course we can always use more," Johnson said. "But $200,000 a year is a great impact. There's a lot we can do in terms of technology, whether providing professional development or more technology resources we didn't have the funds for before.

The money will benefit the entire district but programs will primarily be focused on Jeff Davis Elementary, Popp's Ferry Elementary, North Bay Elementary and Biloxi Junior High.