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Alexandria Schools Partners With Virginia Tech To Enhance STEM Opportunities for Students

Students at James K. Polk Elementary School took part in the Micro:bit Educational Foundation Pilot Program. (Photo courtesy ACPS)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and Virginia Tech Innovation Campus have teamed up once again to provide more learning opportunities for ACPS students. Their latest collaboration involves a pilot program designed to enhance STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) opportunities at the elementary school level.

The Micro:bit Educational Foundation Pilot Program (MEFPP) was recently introduced to students at James K. Polk Elementary. ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. and Virginia Tech Innovation Campus Vice President Executive Director Dr. Lance Collins distributed micro:bit equipment to each of the school’s fifth-graders. They were accompanied by Principal Carla Carter.

The micro:bit is a pocket-size computer that demonstrates how hardware and software work together. When programmed, it interacts with the user through LED lights and sensors. The device can test for humidity, temperature, and detect motion, for example. This pilot program’s goal is to get students excited about technology and the many career choices it offers by providing free, user-friendly tech that supports classroom learning.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Alexandria City Public Schools for this important initiative,” said Collins. “Programming starting at the elementary school level allows students to focus, get excited, and eventually prepare for what’s required to enter STEM fields. It is a joy to watch young people discover these possibilities.”

Dr. Lance Collins, the exective director and vice president of Virginia Tech Innovation Campus talks with a student about the micro:bit. (Photo courtesy ACPS

The program is meant to bolster ACPS’ elementary-level science curriculum by:

  • Providing support and professional learning to ACPS staff to refine their teaching;
  • Middle school STEM exploration, including alignment of afterschool and summer programs;
  • Development of AC-Tech, a project recognized and supported by a VDOE High School Innovation Grant to support Engineering, Energy, and other academic and technical career pathways; and
  • The continuation of developing pathways from high school to college for low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students

“Our students are now going to have opportunities they may not have had if we didn’t have this partnership with Virginia Tech. The exposure will pique interest, which we hope in turn, will expand STEM opportunities for our students in high school,” Hutchings said. “We are such a diverse community and we have students who are underrepresented in the STEM field. Giving them that access at an early age really is a game-changer.”

ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. works with a student at Polk Elementary during the micro:bit demonstration.. (Photo (ACPS)

Through this partnership, Virginia Tech will provide ACPS with professional and college-level education and help develop a skillset that can be used in the tech industry. Learning will take place in a hands-on environment with different software and programs available. Students who may be traditionally underrepresented in the creative tech field will be able to apply skills they learn to their coursework. This opportunity also opens the door to more scholarships, mentorship opportunities, and a vast support network later in life.

The MEFPP will be made available to more ACPS schools in the near future.

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Kevin Dauray

Kevin is Publisher's Assistant with The Zebra Press. He has been working for Alexandria's "Good News" newspaper since 2019. A graduate of George Mason University, he earned a bachelor's in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. He is an alumnus of T.C. Williams High School. Go Titans!

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