- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

HERNANDO, Miss. (AP) - The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi is expanding a program that brings Web-based, interactive science, technology, engineering and math education to local schools.

EverFi, an education-technology company, will provide STEM education first to Byhalia Middle School with discussions underway to get the program in DeSoto County Schools.

“The course was only released nationally about two to three weeks ago, so these schools are among the first in the nation to have access. Any DeSoto County school that wishes to may now gain access at no cost,” Stacie Martin, an EverFi spokeswoman, told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1cPPULU ).

The course will be available to area students through the Community Foundation’s Mississippi Digital Scholars program. Martin said while Mississippi is projected to create nearly 50,000 new STEM-related jobs in the next five years, only 57 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or advanced on the state science test.

Students may access the Radius program at their schools’ computer library or with digital devices using their individual logins. They will read lessons that the program then demonstrates, and they will work problems that provide career application.

Martin said the course is designed at an Algebra 1 level.

Not only does the program use computer game mechanics to engage students, but it uses the digital language they speak, Martin said.

“These kids today are digital natives,” said Landon Pollard, Byhalia Middle principal.

The Community Foundation has an ongoing partnership with EverFi to teach financial literacy online to Northwest Mississippi students. Byhalia Middle was chosen for expansion of the partnership into STEM education in part because of the high-tech computers it had purchased through an unrelated grant. Pollard said the school has 120 Apple products for students to access Radius.

“It was definitely a treat for us,” Pollard said.

EverFi is headquartered in Washington. The Community Foundation, founded in 2002, serves a 10-county area.

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com