STEM and South Carolina’s Road to Innovation

September 26, 2014

The Riley Institute’s priority in partnering with communities and schools along the I-95 corridor in order to fundamentally reimagine education for public school students truly began to gain traction with the 2006 release of the documentary “Corridor of Shame: the Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools,” which publicized the plight of students in the rural, high-minority populations of students along that stretch of interstate highway.  Recognizing the realities students living in these areas faced – a dwindling tax base, crumbling facilities, and the historical and political reality of the systematic deprivation of a quality education for students in the Corridor – the Riley Institute partnered with KnowledgeWorks, New Tech Network, Clarendon County School District 1, and Colleton County School District to apply for and implement a $2.9m federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant in 2011 in order for two high schools to reopen in 2013-14 as STEM-focused New Tech Network schools.

Accelerating STEM education and extensive project-based learning (PBL) throughout the curriculum will enable South Carolina’s future workforce to meet the escalating demand for employees in high-tech fields. Project Based Learning is at the heart of the New Tech Network’s instructional approach and requires developing projects that are contextual and creative, that require students to collaborate and think critically, and that promote enhanced communication
between and among students.

The the hallmarks of the New Tech Network approach are a culture that empowers, technology that enables, and teaching that engages. The model focuses on developing in students the 21st-century skills that are needed to succeed in today’s technologically advanced workplaces, such as collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking.  Furthermore, each New Tech Network school cultivates an atmosphere of trust, respect, and responsibility among students and faculty.  “This is the hottest thing going in education today in the United States and you are all part of it,” former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said to students at Scott’s Branch High School in 2012. “We believe New Tech schools can help the I-95 Corridor become a ‘corridor of innovation’ and will have a dramatic impact on the state, helping to prepare today’s young learners to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.”

By helping to bring the New Tech Network to South Carolina, the Riley Institute is working to ensure that every child in South Carolina – regardless of circumstances outside a student’s control such as place of birth, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status – receives a high-quality education that prepares them for life and work in the rapidly-changing environment of the 21st century.  In the past, rural educational infrastructure has been allowed to atrophy after decades of neglect, and it is crucial to the future of South Carolina and of the nation that we work to produce students who are well-equipped to meet these challenges and excel.

Cougar New Tech in Walterboro (Colleton County School District) and Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton (Clarendon District 1) opened their doors as the first two New Tech Network schools in South Carolina in the fall of 2013.  Since then, six more New Tech schools have opened in South Carolina – two in Greenville County, two in Lake City (Florence District 3), one in Cayce (Lexington District 2), and one in Horry County.  The Riley Institute believes New Tech is a key to transforming the so-called “Corridor of Shame” into a “Corridor of Innovation” and will be transformative for students and their communities, and will continue to partner with the Network to expand throughout the Palmetto State as part of an intentional economic development strategy focused on preparing students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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