Worcester To Spend $120K On Summer STEM Academy

SNOW HILL – County officials approved plans for a summer STEM program at Worcester Technical High School.

The Worcester County Commissioners last week approved plans for WEST (Worcester Enrichment in Science and Technology) Academy in August. The program will be offered at Worcester Technical High School in partnership with the school system.

“In terms of the structure that’s already in place with the technical high school, we felt they were the best suited to operate this program,” said Melanie Pursel, director of the Worcester County Office of Tourism and Economic Development.

Pursel advised the commissioners that since they’d approved hiring a workforce engagement specialist and reconfiguring the county’s summer STEM program, she’d been working to create a new program.

“We explored many options, however after numerous productive meetings with the Board of Education and Worcester Technical High School staff, it was clear they were the most efficient and best equipped with the highest level of expertise to work with,” she wrote in a memorandum to the commissioners. “Although this year (FY21) we are still focusing on STEM to fulfill the commitments to the students that applied last year, we have asked that the technical school team begin to incorporate Skilled Trades, Agriculture and Tourism (STAT) into the program.”

The new program, WEST Academy, will offer up to 50 participants the chance to pursue pathways in robotics and drones, culinary science, art/tech laser cutting, 3D printing and forensic science.

Commissioner Jim Bunting was quick to question the academy’s $120,000 cost. Though the county wasn’t able to offer its traditional STEM program last year, in 2019 it was able to fund STEM camp, internships and a high school leadership program for $100,000.

“There’s different pathways that the participants can take,” Pursel said of the new program. “Each of them will actually leave with a product. So the materials for the pathways is what’s so costly.”

Bunting said he recalled staff projecting a cost of $60,000 for the program when the STEM reorganization was approved.

“Well we were able to use the funds that were already in the budget,” Pursel said. “This is FY21 funding. I think next year moving forward we’re also working with the Tri County Council to get some funds leveraged to do the STEM and the STAT that we talked about This is just trying to take care of the 60 students that were displaced last year because the program was not able to be held so we figured this was a good opportunity to work with the professionals with the board of education, put on a summer STEM academy and then be able to regroup, see how it goes and see how we can incorporate the STAT moving forward.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if the program would in any way impact the county’s Maintenance of Effort funding.

“No it does not,” Pursel said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said the Tri-County Council was excited about the program and eager to provide it with grant funding in the future.

“We’re actually a model…,” Pursel said. “I think that partnering with the tech school was really the smart thing to do.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve plans for WEST Academy.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.