Louisiana STEM Pathway Graduates Awarded

The Senior Class of 2020 has certainly had its share of challenges, but one group of 23 Louisiana seniors have completed rigorous STEM coursework, earning an impressive diploma endorsement. This news comes from a Louisiana Department of Education press release, in which the state’s first STEM cohort accomplished this admirable achievement.

State Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley stated, “The Louisiana Department of Education applauds these students for being the first in the state to complete challenging sequences of STEM coursework and graduate with a diploma endorsement. “These students have shown they are ready to fill critical workforce needs in STEM career sectors. They are tomorrow’s computer programmers, process technicians, researchers, and medical professionals.”

This inaugural class of 23 Louisiana Seniors will earn a special endorsement on their diploma to mark the accomplishment of completing the rigorous STEM coursework, or coursework designed to prepare them to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math career fields.

Louisiana STEM Pathways was initially launched in 2016, and the program is a part of the Jump Start Initiative, Louisiana’s premiere, innovative career and technical education program (CTE). While Jump Start prepares students to lead productive adult lives, capable of continuing their education after high school while earning certifications in high-wage career sectors, the STEM Pathways specifically prepare students to seek a STEM degree in college or enter the workforce having earned certifications in high-wage career sectors. The program is designed for students seeking either a TOPS Tech Diploma or University Diploma, and they include biomedical, computing, cyber security, digital design and emergent media, pre-engineering, and pre-pharmacy.

Within just the 2019-2020 school year alone, more than 4,000 students among 81 Louisiana schools are enrolled in these STEM pathways, and more continue to join each year. After completing rigorous, challenging coursework, students are recognized and awarded with endorsements on their diplomas. Students completing four core courses in a single pathway are recognized with a silver endorsement, while those who go beyond the core coursework to complete four optional courses are recognized with a gold endorsement. OF this year’s crop of 23 graduated, 15 received silver and 8 eight received gold.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) sponsored the bill to create the STEM seal for high school students along with the state’s  LaSTEM Advisory Council. Hewill stated, “Over the next decade, Louisiana and the nation will see a surge in the number of job opportunities available in STEM fields. The Louisiana STEM Pathways represent one step forward in the state’s effort to better meet those workforce demands. We must continue to expand the program, as well as ensure students have exposure to STEM courses and credentials starting in elementary school and continued through college.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, who chairs the LaSTEM Advisory Council reported, “A 2018 report by ACT showed 51 percent of Louisiana students indicated having an interest in STEM majors and careers. By exposing our students to this coursework earlier in their education, we can position them for success in college and beyond and position our state for economic prosperity.”

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Louisiana High School Seniors Earn National Merit Scholarships

An article from The Advocate announced recently that thirty-four of the forty Louisiana scholarships awarded so far as part of the 65th annual National Merit Scholarship Program are on their way to some very deserving high school seniors from the New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas.  These winners were announced Wednesday, May 13, 2020 joining the other seven who were announced April 21.

Additional winners for the National Merit Scholarship program are expected to be announced June 3 and July 13. At the culmination of this year’s competition, over 7,500 students nationwide will have won National Merit Scholarships.  The 2020 competition will award students with scholarships totaling more than $30 million.

The most recent round of National Merit Scholarships were for $2,500 each, and all but one was financed by the organizers of the National Merit scholarship program. The scholarships that were announced on April 21 were funded by corporations and ranged anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per year.

Two New Orleans high schools, Jesuit and Ben Franklin, led the way statewide in scholarships in the first two rounds, at six and four recipients, respectively.

Baton Rouge found three of its high schools tied for three scholarships each – those schools being Catholic, Baton Rouge Magnet, and St. Joseph’s Academy.

Two Lafayette area schools, Ascension Episcopal School and Southside High, are home to one recipient each.

The winners of this year’s National Merit scholarships were drawn from a pool of 16,000 semifinalists and 15,000 finalists.  This pool came from the over 1.5 million high school juniors who took the PSAT in October 2018.

Details on all the Louisiana winners are below – congratulations and we wish you all the best in the future!

New Orleans Region National Merit Scholarships:

Dominic T. Allain, Salmen High in Slidell; Christopher N. Barron, Northshore High in Slidell; Andre R. Bourque, Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches; Tomaso H. Dire, Ben Franklin High; Olympia R. Baldwin Edwards, Ben Franklin High; Mary Grace Foster, Lusher Charter School in New Orleans; Charlotte L. Fowler, Ursuline Academy in New Orleans; Emily C. Gibbons, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Westwego; John M. Gunaldo, Jesuit High; Salma Ashraf Heram, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Westwego; Thomas S. Levy, Jesuit High; Milan Mardia, Jesuit High; Hayes T. Martin, Jesuit High; Christian T. Nguyen, Jesuit High; Amanda L. Phillips, Fontainebleau High in Mandeville; Dominic J. Stoner, Jesuit High; Hayley E. Sumich, Mt. Carmel Academy in New Orleans; Joseph V. Wagner, Ben Franklin High; Charlotte C. Williams, Isidore Newman School in New Orleans; and David Y. Zhang, Ben Franklin High.

Baton Rouge Region National Merit Scholarships: 

Sophie K. Faircloth, Denham Springs High; Nicholas M. Fanguy, Catholic High; Celia A. Kiesel, Episcopal High; Joshua J. Langlois, Catholic High; Sara G. Mayeux, St. Joseph’s Academy; Krishna R. Pochana, Baton Rouge Magnet High; Adam Lowery Reid, Episcopal High; Shreya V. Reshamwala, St. Joseph’s Academy; Stewart A. Roeling, Catholic High; Amy E. Ruckman, Baton Rouge Magnet High; Thuc Nhan N. Tran, St. Joseph’s Academy; and Cindy Y. Zheng, Baton Rouge Magnet High. Nine are residents of Baton Rouge. Of the other three recipients, Faircloth lives in Denham Springs, Mayeux is in Prairieville and Reid is in Gonzales. All but Faircloth attend schools in Baton Rouge.

Lafayette/Acadiana Region National Merit Scholarships:

William W. Brien, Ascension Episcopal School; Dylan C. Davis, Southside High.

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New Grant Assists Early Childhood Education Centers

On December 23, 2019, the Louisiana Department of Education announced it won a competitive federal Preschool Development Grant worth more than $11 million each year, for three years. The grant will start in 2020 and is going to be used to create more than 600 new seats at early learning sites for low-income children, from birth to age 3. It will also be used to improve the quality of programming in early childhood education and build the capacity of local communities to meet the needs of their youngest learners.

Since 2014, Louisiana has won two versions of this grant, bringing in a total of $40.3 million, not including this funding.

“Since Act 3 of 2012, Louisiana has positively transformed its early childhood education system, boosting it to No.8 in the nation,” said State Superintendent John White, citing a ranking by the Bipartisan Policy Center.“We are proud this hard work has again been recognized by the federal government in the form of funding support. This new grant award marks an important step toward solving the state’s crisis of access, particularly among children birth to age 3, who are most in need.”

“However, significant barriers remain for thousands of working families in need of quality care and education for their children. We must continue to work together to find solutions and close this gap.” White added.

This grant will allow Louisiana to:

  • In the first year, create at least 600 new seats in child care centers for children birth to age 3. Programs that provide infant care, meet teacher certification requirements, have achieved minimum quality rating scores will be prioritized. These seats will be offered as fully funded and additional seats may be added over the three years.
  • Double the number of Ready Start Network pilots. Currently, there are 13 pilots statewide. These locally-led pilot programs, which were created in response to2018 legislation, are responsible for increasing access to high-quality early childhood education in their communities. They are critical to sustainably solving Louisiana’s seat crisis for children birth through age 3.
  • Fund community-based guides to assist families. These Early Childhood Education Guides were created to recruit and support families to apple for child care assistance, as well as build a community level waiting list of eligible children for seats.
  • Strengthen relationships with family child care home providers. Expanding on a pilot already in place, Louisiana will establish and strengthen regional networks of family child care home providers. They will also measure the quality of these operations and offer support for improvement efforts.

Among other key initiatives outlined.

“Louisiana was one of just 20 states across the country to win this Preschool Development Grant. That was not by chance,” said Tony Davis, member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “I applaud the efforts of the Department to win this award for our state, and I look forward to following the important initiatives this funding will support over the coming years.”

“This exciting news should serve as momentum for early childhood providers, advocates, and lawmakers to continue their progress,” she said. “While this funding is a positive step, more can–and must–be done for our children. Louisiana currently serves nearly all 4-year-old children, but only serves 7 percent of in-need children birth to age 2 and 33 percent of in-need children age 3.” said Dr. Libbie Sonnier-Neto, the executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.

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Two Parishes to Pilot Debt-Free Opportunities for Students

Northwest and Southwest Louisiana school systems, colleges, and employers have collaborated to test alternative graduation models that allow certain students to take part in a fifth year of high school to earn career skills and credits towards a college degree, reports Louisiana Believes. The program aims to provide debt-free opportunities for students.

The Extension Academies are two new pilot programs and were approved recently by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Board of Regents at a joint meeting. Each pilot will last three years and launch in the 2020-2021 school year. It will serve up to 25 students in the first year with hopes to offer debt-free options for students.

State Superintendent John White said about the pilot programs: “The question we used to ask ourselves was how high we could raise our graduation rate and how low we could push our dropout rate. Now we are compelled to ask what happens to our graduates and whether they risk dropping out of work and the economy even after they graduate from high school. If this is the case, even with a small number of students, we must rise to meet this new dropout challenge.”

Kim Hunter Reed, the Commissioner of Higher Education, said “We applaud our partners in education and business for joining together to embrace the opportunity to positively impact these young people at a critical point in their lives. We also look forward to monitoring the results of these pilots as we work collectively to increase talent development in our state.”

The pilot programs are specifically designed to aid students who have are set to graduate from high school but have yet to earn Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships to pay for their post-secondary goals or to acquire post-secondary credentials. For example, in 2018 about 15,000 students who graduated with a TOPS University Diploma pathway weren’t eligible for TOPS scholarships to pay for higher education, and about 3,200 students who graduated on a Jump Start TOPS Tech Career Diploma weren’t on the correct path to earning an advanced industry-based credential so they weren’t eligible for TOPS Tech scholarships.

Through their applications, the regional partners outlined how they plan to provide eligible students a debt-free one-year opportunity to achieve significant progress toward a state-recognized associate’s degree through accelerated dual enrollment college experiences, complete a registered pre-apprenticeship, or earn an advanced industry-based credential. They also detailed types of support and transitional coaching that will be available to participating students as they finish their high school diploma.

The Southwest Consortium is the Extension Academy pilot in the southwest region of Louisiana will bring together nine public schools in Calcasieu Parish and industry partners to supply students opportunities to develop and strengthen skills and training in automotive, HVAC, pharmacy, medicine, and cyber programs.

Director of Career and Technical Education and College Programs for the Calcasieu Parish School Board, Tony McCardle said, “Students will experience a deeper dive into courses and develop richer skill sets that will prepare them to propel beyond the high school experience. Early indications are showing that students are excited about this opportunity, as it will assist them in being fiercely competitive in the high-wage and high-demand workforce.  We are proud to be able to offer this opportunity to our students and community.”

The Northwest Consortium is the Extension Academy pilot in the northwest region of Louisiana will bring together 12 public schools in Caddo Parish and industry partners to supply students opportunities to develop and strengthen skills and training in automotive, HVAC, pharmacy, medicine, and cyber programs.

“What an exciting opportunity for graduating students in the Northwest Consortium that don’t meet TOPS or TOPS Tech to have an additional year toward an associate’s degree or a statewide industry-based credential (IBC). With no tuition cost to the student, eligible participants in the Extension Academy will be full-time students on either Bossier Parish Community College’s campus or Ayers Career College campus. Eligible students also have an opportunity to complete a statewide IBC at Caddo’s Career and Technology Center. This effort will not only enhance what we are able to provide students to assist them as they pursue their desired programs, but also support the work of our school system to ensure all students are prepared for the next step.” said Victor Mainiero, Executive Director of High School Performance for Caddo Parish Public Schools.

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Nicholls State University Named a Top Regional University

In September 2019, Nicholls State University was named as one of the top regional universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report. This is the third year in a row the college has been named in the Best Colleges rankings.

According to the report, Nicholls ranks thirty-eighth among public regional universities in the South and the best in the state of Louisiana, and ranks eighty-fourth among southern regional universities including private schools – the third best in Louisiana State, the two preceding being Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of Holy Cross. In 2019, Nicholls ranked as No. 41 and No. 100.

“This is a direct reflection of the commitment our faculty and staff make every day to recruit, educate and graduate a better student for the Bayou Region,” said Dr. Jay Clune, Nicholls president.

U.S. News and World Report state they define a regional university as a school that offers several undergraduate degrees, a handful of master’s degrees, but a select few doctoral programs. A public university is defined as a school that functions under state government supervision and is partially funded by tax dollars.

In order to calculate each school’s ranking, U.S. News and World Report took into consideration graduation rates, retention rates, social mobility, academic reputation, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, and alumni contribution rate.

Once the data for each school is analyzed and studied, the schools were then broken into the categories of national university and regional university, then the top seventy-five percent of each category is published.

Nicholls ranked 103rd in social mobility among regional universities in the South and fourth among public universities in Louisiana. Social mobility is determined by comparing the school’s Pell Grant recipient graduation rate to the graduation rates of those who did not receive the grant.

Nicholls State University is a student-centered regional institution located in Thibodaux, Louisiana. They offer accredited degree programs and unique learning experiences with a goal to prepare their students for life beyond the classroom and to have a successful career. They are dedicated to the education of their diverse student body while also providing a rich cultural and educational environment.

“Nicholls supports the educational, cultural, and economic needs of its service region and cultivated productive, responsible, and engaged citizens.”

U.S. News and World Report is an online news and information organization that aims to empower their readers to make better, well informed choices that affect their day-to-day lives. They focus on education, health, personal finance, travel, cars, and news & opinion and aim to bring honest, fact-based information to their audience. U.S. News provides hospital and school rankings, consumer advice, and analysis in an effort to provide valuable information to people seeking to make complex decisions, regardless of their phase of life. U.S News is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and was founded in 1933, with an average of over 30 millions site visitors.

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Louisiana State’s Honor Roll Recognizes Early Learning Centers

On November 5, 2019, Louisiana Believes announced that the Louisiana Department of Education declared that nearly 400 early learning centers have earned a spot on the state’s “Honor Roll” as a result of their performance in 2018-2019. This announcement came the day before the state released its annual early childhood performance profiles and K-12 school report cards in the Louisiana School and Center Finder.

“Louisiana took a great step forward when it began publicly reporting the performance of early childhood centers alongside their counterparts in K-12 systems. The Honor Roll released today complements that effort by recognizing and rewarding the sites that achieved remarkable success this past year. We applaud these sites for providing families, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, with access to high-quality care and for acting as models for excellence and growth.” said State Superintendent John White.

“These standout sites really highlight the great work being done throughout Louisiana in early education. We are caring for our earliest learners in safe, emotionally supportive, and educational environments, preparing them for success in school and life,” said Tony Davis, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Our state is being well served by its investment in early childhood education, and I proudly continue to advocate for additional funding to expand these kinds of gains.”

The early childhood programs, which include early childhood centers, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten, that were recognized were placed within three categories:

  • Excellent: the highest possible rating, the centers with this rating are among the best in the world.
  • Birth to Three: sites in this category provided high-quality instruction and care to the state’s youngest learners, children from ages birth to three.
  • Top Gains: centers within this category significantly improved their scores from the previous year.

In total, 363 sites made the Honor Roll, which is up fro 277 sites from 2017-2018. 113 of these were recognized in the “Excellence” category, 216 were in the “Birth to Three” category, and 57 were in the “Top Gains” category.

The sites and centers that were recognized on the Honor Roll span over 51 early childhood education community networks, many who oversee multiple sites on the list. For example, Rapids Parish oversees 63 sites that made it onto one or more of the lists. The network was one of the first early childhood education networks to establish a “Ready Start Community Network” and is one of the most improved in the state.

“The Ready Start Community Network” has steadily improved the quality of early care and education to our youngest children. In 2015-2016, Rapides has only 48 percent of our sites achieving Proficient. In 2018-2019, 95 percent of our early education sites are Proficient, and over 53 percent of those are High Proficient or Excellent. Our community network has much to celebrate because of the tireless work, energies, and single-purpose to provide excellent early childhood educational programs for Rapides children birth to age 5. We want every child in Rapides Parish to receive a high-quality learning experience that promotes student achievement and school readiness. These youngest citizens are our future and deserve our best efforts in creating quality classroom environments in which to reach their maximum potential.” said Cindy Rushing, early childhood coordinator for the Rapides Parish School District.

Each site and center on the Honor Roll will receive a special badge on their performance profiles on the Louisiana School and Center Finder and a state certificate.

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