(TNS) — The Highland Park school district announced an early back-to-school gift Monday -- a $5.8 million grant to overhaul the way students are taught science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
The Moody Foundation grant, given to the Highland Park Education Foundation, is believed to be the largest donation to an education foundation in Texas, the district said.
"We are investing in people," said Highland Park ISD Superintendent Tom Trigg. "It's not so much about equipment and facilities as it is about professional development, the curriculum and the teaching and learning process."
The grant will promote innovative learning in the STEAM fields and focus on experiential learning, collaborative problem solving and technology enhancements, Trigg said.
The Texas-based Moody Foundation announced the grant during staff convocation Monday at Highland Park High's packed auditorium. The news was followed by a balloon drop and a student rendition of "Seasons of Love," a song from the Broadway musical Rent that references the 525,600 minutes in a year. Before the reveal, the crowd of about 650 celebrated the accomplishments of its teachers.
Janice Knott, a history teacher who recently retired after 25 years in the profession, won the award for Highland Park High's teacher of the year.
Knott thinks the effects of the STEAM investment will "allow science and math teachers to dream" and even "spill over into the humanities," she said.
Laurie Gagne, director of special programs at Highland Park ISD, also thinks the new initiative can help all students. "Special learners need hands-on experiences, and this brings more hands-on experiences," Gagne said.
The grant will change more than just what goes on inside the classroom. The school also plans to create the Moody Advanced Professional Studies Center, which will connect students and teachers with businesses and industries.
Jamie Williams, the Moody Foundation's director of regional grants for North Texas, said it partnered with Highland Park ISD because it wanted to "start with what's already good and build from there."
Students at Highland Park High achieve an average ACT score of 27.4, compared with the national average of 21, and an average SAT score of 1,790, compared with the national average of 1,490.
Since 1991, about $1.3 billion in property taxes collected in the district has been given back to the state for redistribution to poorer districts. Because the grant has been awarded to the district's educational foundation, it will not be subject to "recapture."
The $5.8 million will generally be spread equitably across the schools, Trigg said. A steering committee with representatives from each campus has been created to discuss how exactly the money will be spent.
The Moody Foundation has given the committee a year to research the best ways to customize STEAM learning across its schools. In the last year, district representatives traveled to other schools within and outside Texas to study their STEAM curriculum.
Gena Gardiner, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and special programs for Highland Park ISD, said the planning process will include and empower teachers. "We want it to be something that integrates with what our teachers are already doing -- something that deepens and enriches their work." Gardiner predicts these initiatives will start to be implemented next summer.
Trigg thinks the grant can help the Highland Park ISD contribute to solving a national problem of a lack of prospective employees trained in the STEAM fields.
"As a leading district, we want to provide learning opportunities for kids that excite them and make them strongly consider these majors," Trigg said. "We want to put something together that can be replicated in other districts."
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