OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - On Monday, state and local dignitaries gathered at Ocean Springs High to celebrate a landmark moment in the district's history. The district received a check for $480,179 from the Office of Naval Research to launch the "National Math and Science Initiative."
The district is the first in Mississippi to join the program, which comes with perks like rewarding students and teachers who excel with some money.
"It offers the opportunity to actually incentivize excellence. That's really what we have to be about, not only in this school district, but in the state to transform education," said Ocean Springs Schools Superintendent Dr. Bonita Coleman-Potter.
The Ocean Springs School District was chosen because of its support for military families. The money will help fund intensive training for Advanced Placement teachers in Math, Science and English. The AP program offers college-level courses in high school.
"Funds from this grant will be used to support educators with state-of-the-art professional development for K-12 teachers. It'll provide incentives for students and teachers to reach new levels of academic rigor and preparation," said Michelle Smith, Ocean Springs School Board Member.
The funds will also be used to purchase classroom resources like textbooks, lab supplies and technology. Here's the biggest incentive: Students who make the grade on their AP exams will receive a cash reward.
"If a student scores a three or higher in the AP course, they will get $100 apiece. And the teachers will get an incentive of $100 for every student that scores three or higher. So it's basically pushing both our students and our teachers to reach academic excellence," said Ocean Springs High Principal David Baggett.
Right now, 21 students at Ocean Springs High would make that qualifying score. The goal is to increase that to 72 students by the year 2016.
"And that's why we're so very proud of Ocean Springs High School. They've recognized that and they said we need to be on the cutting edge. We need to be a leader in the state of Mississippi and this program will allow us to do that," said Dale Fleury, National Math & Science Initiative Senior Regional Director.
"I feel like these classes will help me grow as a student and put me in the best position to get into one of the best colleges here," said Ocean Springs High sophomore Tony Maiolatesi.
By challenging students to take tougher AP courses, school leaders hope this will also prepare them to compete for jobs on an international level.
The three-year partnership will involve teachers from the elementary to the high school level. The teacher training will start in June, and the program will kick off next school year.
The Biloxi School District has also applied for the program.