Panama City - On Wednesday the Society of American Military Engineers will donate a large check to three Bay County educational institutions. Seventy-four thousand dollars will be given to Haney Technical Center, Gulf Coast State College and Surfside Middle School. Surfside will receive a $24,000 grant for it's Gateway to Technology pre-engineering program which began in 2007. Program administrators say without these grant funds, their materials would be 5 years behind.
These are the next generation of America's engineers. "I've learned how to build robots and about lots of computer programs that I didn't know before," said Madison, an 8th grader in her third year with the program. Each year since 2007 Surfside Middle School has offered pre-engineering classes for a growing number of students. Students must apply for the program and write an essay. That application, as well as a student's grades in math and science, and their behavior are all considered.
"We do not have enough engineers and scientists and technicians going into college. So this is a program that encourages students, exposes them to the concepts related to engineering and allows them to explore those careers and encourages them to go into those careers," said GTT Master Teacher Kathy Jones.
The classes, taken as an elective, are project based, which means lots of materials are necessary; materials Surfside has never been able to update, until now. "We asked for all the high-tech, most recent 2012 type equipment that has been added to the program and they provided us with that. They met all our needs," said Jones.
Parents interested in having their children take up engineering may wonder if they need to consider making a conscious choice about where their children go to middle school. "For us, we have a full music program, we don't have art, but we do have pre-engineering that is where we made a choice, that is an essential piece where we didn't feel we could give up at this time," said Dr. Sue Harrell, the principal at Surfside Middle School.
Students from Surfside's pre-engineering program then go on to Arnold High School to take more advanced engineering classes. Surfside has plans to make the whole school STEM recognized which means every student would be exposed to a STEM related project every day. Jenks and Merrit Brown are the other two Bay County middle schools with pre-engineering programs.