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SOUTH POINT, Ohio — Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School, currently using a blended learning environment due to COVID-19, is a recipient of a grant that will allow for the purchase of mobile hotspots and service plans for students to use.

STEM+M students began the 2020-21 school year as scheduled Aug. 17. Under its current regular daily schedule, students attend their courses in an online environment, and on Fridays (STEM days) small groups, based on certain classes, are allowed to enter the building to complete hands-on projects and activities. On STEM days, all the mandatory precautions are being adhered to — including, but not limited to, use of face masks, social distancing and one-way traffic through the school.

Assistant Director Shelby Davidson said she can’t wait for students to be back in the building full time.

“It has been great having students here on Fridays and seeing them work with the other students and our teachers, but we can’t wait to be able to have all of the students back here in the building when it’s truly safe,” Davidson said in a news release.

To assist students who have unreliable internet service, Tri-State STEM+M applied for a BroadbandOhio Connectivity grant, which was available to all of Ohio’s public schools. Awards ranged from $600 to $250,000, depending on school size and student need. Tri-State STEM+M received $10,000, which it will use to purchase mobile hotspots and service plans, which students can use through the end of 2020.

“We have students who may not have the most reliable internet service. With this grant money, we can make sure they are staying connected with us and their classes. This money will be put to immediate use,” Davidson said.

Tri-State STEM+M uses an open-floor concept in its building — great for collaboration and workplace simulation, but not ideal when it comes to a safe learning environment during a pandemic, which led to the decision to begin under the blended model.

“Just like every school in our country, we have students, staff and family members who have underlying conditions or who are otherwise vulnerable,” interim Director Josh Joseph said in the release. “That, along with knowing how successful our transition was to online learning in the spring, (is why) we chose to utilize this blended learning environment for at least the first nine weeks and will continue to evaluate the situation moving forward.”

One major concern when going virtual is the students’ emotional and social health, school officials said. Tri-State STEM+M is working with Ironton-based nonprofit Impact Prevention, which is helping to provide life skills training and youth-led prevention to their students. Joseph said the school also is working on some creative ways to keep students engaged and supported throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School, located at 702 Solida Road in South Point, is an Ohio public high school serving grades 9-12 with STEM designation. It opened in 2017. For more information, visit www.tristatestem.com.

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