New programs, personnel greet Mahoning Valley students this fall

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Another city school year begins with new programs as the district continues its plan to offer more choices for students, while other Mahoning Valley districts implement a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum.

This school year, the former Volney Rogers Middle School on South Schenley Avenue will reopen as Discovery 2 at Volney, similar to Discovery at Kirkmere, which opened last school year. Volney was shuttered for the 2013-14 school year.

The Discovery program, for third- through eighth-graders, offers courses in engineering, dance, music, art, communication and Spanish as well as core classes. Discovery 3 at East, also new this year, will be housed at East High School, and offered to seventh- and eighth-graders.

“It follows a career path tied to Choffin Career and Technical Center,” said Superintendent Connie Hathorn.

This marks the first year school districts have been permitted to use Perkins grant money for seventh- and eighth-graders, he said.

“We’re going to have computer labs for students who don’t want to go into STEM” or visual and performing arts, Hathorn said. “We’re providing another path for them.”

Creation of the two new programs is part of the district’s ongoing effort to expand choice for students, he said.

That began in 2011 when Chaney, formerly a traditional high school, became a STEM and visual and performing arts school for students in sixth through 12th grades.

“We found out with the Chaney program when kids picked what they wanted to do, they did better,” the superintendent said. “We’re offering them choices. All seventh- and eighth-graders had to made a decision about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do.”

Besides the three Discovery programs, other options open to seventh- and eighth-graders include Chaney STEM and VPA and Rayen Early College Middle School. The Chaney programs require students to go through auditions/interviews to be accepted, and students must meet certain academic requirements to be accepted into Rayen Early College.

Students returning to other Mahoning Valley school districts can expect to see changes, too.

Struthers, Poland, Austintown, Canfield and Jackson-Milton schools are incorporating more science, technology, engineering and mathematics-geared courses into the curriculum in preparation for the STEM-Manufacturing Academy planned in partnership with the Mahoning County Educational Service Center. Plans call for that school, which would serve ninth- and 10th-graders, to open in fall 2015.

“STEM education is a new movement in American education to help teachers and their students understand how the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics impact their world and prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow,” Struthers Superintendent Joseph Nohra said in an email. “Our students are engaged in real-world, hands-on projects, as well as developing innovative ways of thinking and problem solving by debating and creating solutions with each other.”

South Range schools have begun drug-testing students athletes in grades seven through 12 and those with parking permits.

Punishment for positive results is related only to the extracurriculars and parking privileges, and not academically punitive.

Other districts across the Valley that have either implemented similar policies or considered them include Hubbard, Struthers and Boardman.

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