ExxonMobil dedicates grants to north BR schools

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Ken Miller, left, engineering manager of ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, speaks Friday about a 'substantial' grant to local schools as students watch. The grant will expand courses in science, technology, engineering and math. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Ken Miller, left, engineering manager of ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, speaks Friday about a 'substantial' grant to local schools as students watch. The grant will expand courses in science, technology, engineering and math.

ExxonMobil announced Friday it is expanding its already substantial financial commitment to local public education in Baton Rouge with a new $450,000 grant focusing on improving science instruction in schools across north Baton Rouge.

The money is going to three organizations: the LSU Cain Center, News Schools For Baton Rouge and Teach For America. They will receive $75,000, $60,000 and $15,000 a year, respectively, which adds up to $450,000 over three years.

Representatives of the energy giant appeared in the library of Scotlandville High School to make the announcement about the expansion in instruction in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.

Ken Miller, engineering manager with the company’s Baton Rouge refinery, said the local management successfully sought the money through an ExxonMobil charitable foundation.

“We saw the need for more participation and we twisted a few arms to get them to come in here,” Miller said.

He said a strong base in math and science is a must for current and future jobs in his field, but problem-solving skills are equally as important.

“We want people who can think on their feet when they get into unique engineering sorts of situations,” he said.

ExxonMobil has worked for years with schools in north Baton Rouge and in 2012 spent about $2 million on education-related initiatives in the Capital City.

LSU’s Cain Center works with many teachers in the Baton Rouge area to improve their math and science chops. This new ExxonMobil grant will allow trainers with the center to go beyond workshops to focus intensively on three schools in Scotlandville: the high school, Scotlandville Middle and Progress Elementary. The schools were selected with the help of East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor.

“We’re going to be able to spend more time in the classroom,” said Cain Center’s Rose Kendrick.

Kendrick said a key aspect of the center’s work will be training teachers in how to make best use of the new, more rigorous Common Core Standards that are coming online in Louisiana and in 44 other states.

Michael Tipton, executive director of the south Louisiana chapter of Teach For America, said the $15,000 a year from ExxonMobil will be used to expand the teacher placement organization’s existing recruiting and training efforts to bring science and math teachers to Baton Rouge.

Catherine Pozniak with New Schools for Baton Rouge said the $60,000 a year is part of the group’s larger effort to raise money to support new charter schools that the group is trying to bring to north Baton Rouge. She said the group will announce, probably in May, the first round of charter schools it will offer support to.

Both Teach For America and New Schools for Baton Rouge have close ties to the state-run Recovery School District, which operates seven schools in north Baton Rouge that were formerly part of the parish school system.

ExxonMobil employees, or “ambassadors,” already volunteer at many schools in Baton Rouge. A couple of these regular volunteers helped lead two teams of Scotlandville High students through a quick science demonstration, during which they converted strips of insulation into makeshift roller coasters.

Afterward, the teams, split by gender, explained how they went about making their roller coasters. The girls talked a bit of smack in the process.

“We call ourselves the female engineering dream team. We wanted to make sure that it was better than the boys,” said Brandy Stewart, a sophomore at Scotlandville High and a student in that high school’s engineering magnet program.

Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, who represents the Scotlandville area, said the planned help for the three Scotlandville schools, which all form a feeding pattern, is exciting. She also noted recent announcements of new jobs in her area.

“We want to make sure our children are the future employees in this district,” Banks-Daniel said.