Schools everywhere are buzzing with energy as they return to in-person learning, and after months of preparation, the Rural Tech Project’s five finalist teams are especially busy. With the 2021-22 academic year underway, these finalist teams are implementing programs that empower technology educators and reflect the unique needs of their communities. 

After months of planning, finalist teams launch two-year programs

Last December, the U.S. Department of Education announced the five finalist teams in the Rural Tech Project challenge. This $600,000 challenge aims to advance technology education, support rural educators, and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. From January to July 2021, teams developed detailed program plans and built partnerships before launching their programs for this academic year. 

Their program plans focus on a range of technology skills and career pathways — from computer science and cybersecurity to robotics and aviation. In the two years ahead, the Rural Tech Project will support finalist teams through on-the-ground assistance, expert mentorship, and access to virtual resources as they run, refine, and report on their programs. The Rural Tech Project will provide regular updates on their progress on this website. Follow each team’s page, and read on to learn more about their new programs and how you can support their implementation.

Finalist teams welcome students to their new programs

In the past month, each finalist team’s Community Engagement Manager (CEM) has led the implementation of technology-focused CBE as students returned to the classroom. Louisa County Public Schools’ CEM oversaw the renovation of a new cybersecurity lab, complete with TV monitors that deliver threat assessments of worldwide cyber threats, to inspire and motivate their students to learn about this in-demand field. At Woodlake High School, their CEM helped the school obtain a flight simulator. This simulator has sparked so much student interest that Woodlake’s Math for Aviation classes are now at capacity. 

The next step of Phase 2 involves testing novel approaches to education on the ground, collecting data to evaluate their progress, and adapting plans based on those findings. This ongoing implementation period is a vital part of the Rural Tech Project — it allows educators to experiment with new learning opportunities and flexible models, and explore how competency-based education (CBE) can meet the needs of rural communities. Another finalist team, Ravenna Public Schools, is using the online Mavin learning platform to lead students through a competency-based exercise in developing an Internet of Things kit.

In the past month, each finalist team’s Community Engagement Manager (CEM) has led the implementation of technology-focused CBE as students returned to the classroom. Louisa County Public Schools’ CEM oversaw the renovation of a new cybersecurity lab, complete with TV monitors that deliver threat assessments of worldwide cyber threats, to inspire and motivate their students to learn about this in-demand field. At Woodlake High School, their CEM helped the school obtain a flight simulator. This simulator has sparked so much student interest that Woodlake’s Math for Aviation classes are now at capacity. 

Notably, all CEMs have identified external partners in the private sector to inform students’ learning and career pathways. Representatives from Microsoft, Deere & Company, and Northrop Grumman have visited the schools, and more are expected throughout the year. The finalist team from Premont Independent School District collaborated with Del Mar College and external experts to develop a customized course on Google Analytics, which will enable students to attain career-ready microcredentials.

What comes next: iterating and scaling 

The finalist teams are embarking on a range of ambitious and complex programs. But, as they are quickly realizing, creating a program plan is only the first step — many of the teams must adapt to the unique challenges of this school year. To make their programs effective for both students and educators, they will need to continue engaging a range of experts and stakeholders. Some teams have identified the importance of external experts and coaches to help deliver effective competency-based education, while others have expressed that additional visits from university representatives and industry employers will enable students to better envision career pathways. 

As they look ahead to the next two years of Phase 2, CEMs hope their communities will receive interest and support from external organizations to help them implement their programs. The finalist team pages include contact information for their CEMs. We invite you to visit each page to read about their program, get updates on the current semester, and connect with the team to learn more.

Follow the finalist teams’ page for more details and updates on how their programs are progressing.