Foundation renews Tarleton grant to expand rural access to STEM courses

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STEPHENVILLE (January 8, 2015) — The Sid W. Richardson Foundation has awarded $50,000 to Tarleton State University to continue testing a model that expands science and mathematics coursework through distance learning in rural school districts.

The Richardson Foundation provided $300,000 in 2012 to launch the project, which involved area rural public schools and Tarleton’s colleges of Education and Science and Technology. The goal is to increase access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes in small, rural Texas towns.

Many rural school districts struggle to find teachers certified for all of the science classes students need, said Dr. Credence Baker, Tarleton principal investigator on the project. That may result in some science classes, such as physics, not being offered or being taught by an out-of-field teacher.

In starting the project, Tarleton worked with area rural schools to deliver class content via distance education while simultaneously training and mentoring local teachers to facilitate lab activities. In the funded phase two of the project, the schools are sharing teachers through distance learning.

“Our model allows students in rural areas to have access to high quality and unique course offerings,” said Baker, assistant professor of educational technology and assistant dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “In phase two, we’re working with a lead teacher from Early ISD who is delivering physics content live to students in Glen Rose, Santo, Early and Alvarado, with local teachers assisting with the on-site labs.”

“One of our primary goals in education is to provide equal access to a quality education to all students,” said Dr. Jordan Barkley, dean of the Tarleton College of Education.  “The work that Dr. Baker and her team is doing through the generosity of the Sid Richardson Foundation allows Tarleton to help rural teachers do just that.  With exponential increases in technology each year, programs such as this help us truly ready all students for college and careers.”

The project “demonstrates that it is possible to deliver high quality science classes to rural schools that have been unsuccessful in hiring qualified STEM teachers,” said Dr. James Pierce, dean of the College of Science and Technology. “This can be a model for rural schools to use in sharing teaching expertise through the use of technology. In the long run, we hope that this program will give rural students the opportunity for careers in STEM fields by providing them with the foundations necessary for success.”

In addition to Baker and Pierce, the grant team is composed of Dr. Dan Marble, director of the Texas Physics Consortium and professor in the Department of Chemistry, Geoscience and Physics; Dr. Jill Burk, professor of education, and Lesley Leach, interim department head and associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies.

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