Thanks to a grant from a major employer, middle school students in South Portland will be engaged in the next school year in hands-on projects designed to spark their interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

The South Portland School District learned this month that it had won a $225,000 grant from the National Semiconductor Foundation.

It was one of five grants, totaling $1.2 million, awarded by the foundation this spring as part of the Power of Education grant program. Other recipients included educational projects in California, Scotland and Malaysia.

The grant will enable South Portland to add educational materials and pay for teacher development. It also will partially fund a new position for the district, called the STEM coordinator — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Angela Marzilli, who was a fifth-grade teacher at Dyer Elementary School, has accepted that position.

“We’re thrilled,” Superintendent Suzanne Godin said about the grant. “We have been doing the planning all along, with the hopes that the money would come through.”

The core of the program will be a three-week project framed around various themes, such as energy and ecology. A team of science, technology, math and literacy teachers at Memorial and Mahoney middle schools will work to develop the units for each grade.

There will be a community-based component to the units, Godin said, to help students make connections between real-world problems and the math and sciences that apply to them.

“It is all about integrating those disciplines. Typically, those content areas are taught separately. We know that students learn better when the connections are made clear to them,” Godin said.

Joan Scott, community care director for National Semiconductor, said South Portland was selected for the grant because the district has been a leader in Maine for project-based learning and team teaching.

“In addition, being located so close to National’s site also allows us to build in volunteer opportunities with our employees,” Scott said.

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., National has a manufacturing facility in South Portland.

The grant will fund the STEM program for three years. A small group of teachers will be involved this year, with the expectation that all teachers at both middle schools will be involved by the fall of 2013.

Godin said the larger goal of the program is to steer more students into emerging fields.

“We know that the professions that are going to be sustainable in Maine are in the areas of science, technology, mathematics and engineering, and we know as professionals that we have not had students choosing to go into those fields,” she said.

“We’re hoping to get out ahead of that and prepare our students for those careers.”

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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