Hinsdale Middle/High School

HINSDALE — With millions of careers available across the country in science, engineering and related fields, school districts have been working in recent years to encourage students to pursue them.

To support these efforts, the Hinsdale School District recently received a five-year, $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“There’s such a need right now for students to go into that field, and part of that, for us, is exposure,” said Karen Thompson, the personal and extended learning director for the district. “Our kids need exposure ... and this grant allows us to give those kids exactly that.”

The district, which has about 550 students, will be allotted $50,000 annually for five years though a Department of Education grant that focuses on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Three other New Hampshire districts, in Conway, Laconia and Manchester, were also awarded grants.

Nationally, New Hampshire was one of only four states to be given this grant, according to a news release from the N.H. Department of Education. Thompson added that Hinsdale, along with the other districts, was asked to be part of the initiative.

As part of a collaborative, the state education department, Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center programs and the New Hampshire Learning Initiative will work with the recipient districts, as well as businesses in those areas, according to the release.

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership in which we align the interests of government, non-profit and business communities to benefit New Hampshire students,” Frank Edelblut, the state’s education commissioner, said in a prepared statement. “These are the types of creative and innovative opportunities that will provide students and teachers alike the opportunity to grow and expand their horizons.”

And while the Hinsdale School District was still figuring out the program’s details Friday, Thompson, who is heading it, said the basic idea is to offer students career experiences to make them aware of STEM jobs.

“What I love the most is that it’ll offer opportunities for us for every student,” she said.

For older students, the program will likely focus on hands-on experiences, like working with local STEM-focused businesses, that can teach them the skills to be qualified for the job after graduation.

GS Precision, a manufacturer of components and specialty hardware used in aerospace engines and defense systems with branches in Keene and Brattleboro, has already signed on for the program, she said.

“It’s just really hard for manufacturers right now to get qualified employees, and within the next five years, we’ll be able to send off a lot of our kids that will either get them into a four-year program, or into the field they want to go into,” Thompson said.

Implementation in the younger grades may include a monthly career theme, where someone who works in a STEM field talks to the students and provides an interactive activity, according to Thompson.

This new grant-funded program will be in addition to Hinsdale High School’s extended learning program, part of a statewide initiative to foster learning outside a traditional classroom.

Through that program, students can get school credit for apprenticeships, internships, participation in performing groups and other activities.

Hinsdale already has about 150 local business partners through the extended learning program, Thompson explained, giving the district a base to help it grow its latest initiative.

But while the extended learning program encompasses many career fields, such as culinary and veterinary work, the new one will focus specifically on STEM. Additionally, the STEM program will be for all grade levels.

Hinsdale Middle/High School Principal Ann Freitag said the program will allow younger students to not only have exposure to these fields, but will help shape their plan for high school.

“Our district mission of personalizing learning for all our students will be enhanced so much because of this grant ...,” she said in an email. “This is [an] on-going shift for all of us, and we are hopeful that as a community we will experience the value of learning that will move our students forward and inspire their futures!”

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.