Duplin County Schools places a strong focus on developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills that lead students to careers in high-wage jobs. With many of the available jobs in the area requiring these STEM skills, the hands-on experiences these students receive prepares them well for success in post-secondary education and in their careers.
This long-standing commitment to STEM training has led to innovation and amazing job opportunities for local residents. In February 2013, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $627,692 to Duplin County Schools through the Community Assistance Initiative, a prior grant program that since evolved into the Community-Based Grants Initiative, to build STEM learning centers in all seven of the county’s middle schools over a three-year period. These centers were outfitted with modules based on local industry input. Through this same initiative, the Golden LEAF Board also awarded $1 million to James Sprunt Community College for a Diesel Mechanics Program, a high-demand skill set needed for the local agriculture and transportation industries.
With the momentum these programs created, Duplin County Schools expanded its STEM focus and continued its collaboration with the community college into other disciplines. In June 2016, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $499,715.77 to Duplin County Schools to complete an automotive career pathway at all of the county’s high schools. The career pathway aligns to James Sprunt Community College’s diesel mechanics and transportation programs. The funds also helped to complete the entrepreneurial and engineering makerspaces throughout the district and at James Sprunt Community College.
“This funding built upon the successes of the county’s middle school STEM centers and aligned with James Sprunt Community College’s Diesel Mechanics program,” said Tarla Smith, Chief of Staff for Innovation at Duplin County Schools. “It created opportunities for industry credentials and career readiness certifications for the district’s students, which would bring them one step closer to good employment opportunities after graduation. We are providing our students with a pathway to a good career, starting in middle school.”
The makerspace labs pulled STEM curriculum together with hands-on learning, which helped students apply concepts in real-world settings.
“Elevating content integration across curricula areas paired with project-based learning that utilizes the makerspace opportunities continues to strengthen workforce skills in our students,” said Smith. “This focus has also broadened students’ understanding of the multiple career pathway opportunities available in our area.”
When the pandemic closed the schools in March 2020, Duplin County Schools figured out how to get a virtual learning device into each student’s hands.
“It was not an overnight achievement,” said Smith. “We did not readily have the resources available, but we were able to make virtual learning happen in our district.”
Although the hands-on portion of learning has not been fully available, the instructors have been able to keep the courses going. The results of this innovation and adaptation has been continued success in these STEM training programs.
And when there have been hurdles to programs growing, school officials have worked closely with industry leaders to find a way.
“A big part of the agriculture industry includes transportation,” said Smith. “Even with all we have put into place, our companies are still struggling to get the employees they need.”
Education of the area’s students and sharing with parents more information about the good jobs associated with the industry is key.
“We know how to do academies,” said Smith. “We have had success in building models that work. What we have found is that if you do not have a dedicated person working with the students one on one, the program is less likely to be successful. We are looking at expanding some of the responsibilities of the diesel mechanics program promotion into a current staff position to help push the program’s progress.”
Duplin County has great career options related to the agriculture and logistics industries. Duplin County Schools is doing its part to prepare a pipeline of workers for the available and future jobs through hands-on learning academies in STEM fields.