Aiken County middle schools have already participated with District administrators in moving toward giving middle school students more exposure to the STEM initiatives – science, technology, engineering and math.

Aiken Technical College and USC Aken are collaborating with the District, providing teacher- and principal-training in the STEM area, said Joy Shealy, academic officer for the middle schools.

“It doesn’t mean it’s only for students who want to go into a specific STEM field,” she said. “This can help any student understand that every decision we make will affect our future in some way. That’s why STEM education is so important.”

The District has started a three-year plan to determine the feasibility of developing a magnet STEM school from one of the middle schools. Every class – again, among them English and social studies students – would include STEM components.

The Aiken County Career and Technology Center has a wide range of programs in career and technology education, referred to as CTE – among them welding, electricity, megatronics, health science, automotive technology and much more, said Center Director Brooks Smith. The District’s seven high schools also have some CTE classes, as well as programs that tie into the classes.

In the meantime, four middle schools will be chosen later this month to serve as pilot projects. The District is creating a new position at the Aiken County Career Center, with that person serving a liaison with the four schools, said Smith.

“This teacher will be housed here at the Center,” he said, “and make those career connections that relate specifically to STEM.”

At a Board of Education meeting last month, Shealy described the upcoming 2014-15 middle school project. The pilot programs will include grade-level initiatives, exploratory classes, clubs and after-school programs.

Although the pilot schools have yet to be determined, District administrators previously chose Jackson Middle School to explore how a magnet school might work. Principal Jason Holt said he has communicated with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and Savannah River Remediation. The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center is setting up partnerships between Jackson and both companies.

“The support from all these groups is overwhelming,” Holt said. “They won’t just have one ‘buddy’ engineer. They said they would send ‘whatever you need.’ STEM focuses on anchors, building collaborations with our students.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.