Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and Virginia Tech are expanding their partnership to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math opportunities for students and create potential pathways to higher education and technical careers.

The partnership kicked off its pilot program at James K. Polk Elementary School with Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus Vice President and Executive Director Lance Collins and ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings joining Principal Carla Carter and teachers in distributing micro:bit equipment to all fifth-grade students.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Alexandria City Public Schools for this important initiative,” said Collins. “Programming starting at the elementary school level allows students to focus, get excited, and eventually prepare for what’s required to enter STEM fields. It is a joy to watch young people discover these possibilities.”

“Our students are now going to have opportunities they may not have had if we didn’t have this partnership with Virginia Tech. The exposure will pique interest, which we hope in turn, will expand STEM opportunities for our students in high school. We are such a diverse community and we have students who are underrepresented in the STEM field. Giving them that access at an early age really is a game-changer,” said Hutchings.

Students will have the chance to learn about the micro:bit — a pocket-sized computer that shows how software and hardware work together. It has an LED light display, buttons, sensors, and input/output features that, when programmed, let it interact with the user.

“This device has a number of sensors: temperature, humidity, motion detection, light detection, and sound detection. All of these great things give students this tangible way to study the world around them and connect it with new skills in programming,” said Virginia Tech Thinkabit Lab Director Jim Egenrieder, who earned his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the Virginia Tech School of Education.

The goal is to inspire young people to get excited about technology and the opportunities it presents for them by creating free, user-friendly educational resources that support teachers in delivering engaging and creative lessons. The pilot program will be extended to additional schools in the future.

Virginia Tech will provide ACPS students with professional and college-level education through skill development in creative technology professions. The university will also provide labs and software programs for students to learn in a hands-on environment. Students who may be traditionally underrepresented in the creative technology field will be able to apply the skills they learn from the program to their coursework and have opportunities for micro-scholarships, mentorship, and an expanded network of support.

Written by Shannon Andrea